Radiation Fears Prompt Mass Exodus from Japan

      March 18, 2011 13:21

      Governments around the world are evacuating their citizens from Japan as fears mount over a massive radiation leak from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in northeastern Japan. Narita and Haneda airports in Tokyo were packed with foreigners leaving the country on Thursday.

      ◆ Tokyo Unsafe

      Reports of higher-than-normal radiation levels in Tokyo prompted most countries to call on their nationals not only staying near the Fukushima power plant but also in Tokyo to leave the country. Paris urged French citizens either to return to France or seek refuge in southern Japan, and Air France dispatched two planes at the request of the French Embassy in Tokyo to fly its citizens out.

      The German government also advised citizens either to leave Japan or at least move to western areas like Osaka. Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey urged all Swiss nationals in northeastern areas including Tokyo and Yokohama to leave. The Australian government upgraded its travel warning for Japan as 94 of its citizens in the country remain out of contact.

      Some countries are temporarily shutting their embassies. As of Thursday, Angola, Bahrain, Croatia, Iraq, Kosovo, Lesotho, Liberia and Panama had closed down their embassies. The Australian embassy and diplomats said they plan to temporarily relocate to Osaka. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged American citizens in Japan evacuate 80 km outside the area near the Fukushima nuclear plant, a radius four times larger than the Japanese government's limit of 20 km. Foreign journalists who have been covering the Fukushima crisis are also leaving from the region.

      French residents in Japan and French citizens queue to check in for a special charter flight to Paris, at Narita airport east of Tokyo on Thursday. /Reuters-Yonhap

      ◆ Chartered Flights

      Asian governments are stepping up efforts to get their citizens out of Japan. Starting on Tuesday, the Chinese government deployed buses to the Fukushima, Iwate and Ibaraki prefectures, which were the hardest hit by the earthquake and began shuttling Chinese people to Narita and Niigata airports. On Wednesday night alone, 1,900 Chinese arrived in Dalian aboard China Southern and China Eastern flights. In the week since the earthquake hit last Friday, 4,000 Chinese returned from Japan, according to Xinhua News. The price of tickets from Tokyo to Beijing has doubled or even tripled.

      The Philippine government said it will foot the cost of airplane tickets for citizens either returning home or moving to other areas, while Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told officials to assist its citizens leaving Japan. The Indian government has chartered a B747-400, capable of carrying 400 passengers, to shuttle between India and Japan every day for the time being, according to the Times of India.

      Meanwhile, the number of foreigners entering Japan has plunged. On one flight from London to Tokyo on Tuesday, only 20 of 300 seats were filled. The World Travel and Tourism Council forecast the latest earthquake and nuclear crisis will severely impact Japan's tourism industry, which accounts for 6.8 percent of its GDP.

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