Japanese Nuclear Crisis Drives Foreigners to Seoul

      March 21, 2011 10:38

      Hotels in Seoul are packed as the nuclear crisis in Japan sent many people to seek refuge in Korea. Rooms left empty when Japanese tourists canceled after the earthquake and tsunami in the island country are now being filled by foreigners who have fled Japan after the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

      At the Grand Ambassador Hotel in downtown Seoul, Austrian Airlines booked 20 rooms and Turkish Airlines 17. Flight crew dropped off passengers in Japan and flew straight on to Seoul due to radiation fears. On Thursday and Friday, the French government sent two Airbus jets to take its citizens out of Japan and brought them to Korea, housing them in around 100 rooms at the Grand Ambassador.

      "There were some cancellations by Japanese tourists, but we are almost out of rooms because foreigners living in Japan poured in," a hotel staffer said.

      The immigration area of the Busan International Ferry Terminal is packed with people arriving from Japan on Sunday.

      Hotels near Incheon and Gimpo airports are filled with flight crew. Around 20 rooms at the Novotel Ambassador near Gimpo have been used by staff from foreign carriers since last Friday. "It looks like European and American businesspeople who fled Japan are staying in Korea and monitoring the situation," said a hotel staffer.

      More and more Japanese visitors are arriving in the southern port city of Busan. According to customs officials at Gimhae Airport in Busan, around 1,800 foreigners arrived from Japan on Saturday, around 500 more than usual. Ferries shuttling back and forth from Busan and Osaka are also packed with evacuees. Shuttle operator PanStar Cruise Ferry said 476 people arrived in Busan from Osaka on Saturday, four times more than on Tuesday.

      Some food products are seeing sudden popularity among visitors from Japan, including dried laver and seaweed, which have been touted as effective in helping the body to shake off the harmful effects of radiation. Visitors are also buying salt, due to rumors that the seawater around Japan may have been irradiated as well. A Lotte Mart staffer said Chinese visitors bought huge quantities of salt, and Japanese tourists and even Korean customers are now buying salt too.

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