SOMA, Japan (BP)–Dangerous levels of radiation, leaking from a crippled nuclear plant, forced Japan to order 140,000 people to seal themselves indoors March 15 and prompted two missionary families to leave their homes.
As a nuclear plant explosion and fire dramatically heightened Japan’s unfolding crisis, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation spread along Japan’s northeastern coast from the four stricken reactors of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The region was shattered by Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
Kan and other officials warned there is danger of more leaks and told people living within 19 miles of the complex to stay indoors to avoid exposure that could make people sick. Some 70,000 people had already been evacuated from a 12-mile radius. About 140,000 remain in a new 30-mile warning zone.
Although no International Mission Board personnel serve within the evacuation radius, two families living about 100 miles south of the nuclear facility relocated to other parts of Japan. A third family in the area is watching the situation closely and is prepared to leave when the need arises.
As hard as it is to leave people in whom they have invested their lives, missionaries Bob and Gail Gierhart said they decided to travel 80 miles south to Tokyo by train as the nuclear crisis deepened March 15. Jared and Tara Jones and their children packed their van with food and supplies for a trip to Osaka on Japan’s southwest coast.
“We want to be proactive,” Jared Jones said.
With some roads impassable and fuel almost nonexistent in the north, relocating safely out of the radiation zone for thousands may be a struggle. Lines at gas stations stretch for blocks, some waiting for more than eight hours. One IMB missionary got word of a fuel shipment coming to a nearby gas station — and many people planned to spend the night in their cars to hold their place in line at the pumps.
After Prime Minister Kan’s announcement March 15, many people ran to grocery stores to stock up on whatever food they could find. Shelves were already empty throughout the northern part of Japan. Food is even hard to find as far south as Tokyo. Fields of produce were harvested to salvage crops before any could be contaminated by radiation.
Low levels of radiation were detected as far as 100 miles northeast of the plant, according to the U.S. Navy, which repositioned ships and planes after detecting low-level “airborne radioactivity.”
Tokyo officials also reported slightly elevated radiation levels but said the increase was too small to threaten the 39 million people in and around the capital, about 170 miles from the endangered nuclear plant. If radiation levels increase to evacuation levels, IMB personnel in Tokyo will relocate to another city.
The radiation fears added to Japan’s triple disaster — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis — that has been unfolding since the March 11 calamity. As many as 10,000 people may be dead. Officials said about 2,000 bodies were found Monday along the coast of battered Miyagi Prefecture. Kyodo news agency reported 30,000 people in the devastated areas remain unaccounted for. Millions of people have spent the last four nights with little food, water or heat in near-freezing temperatures.
While the conditions sound extreme and miserable, IMB missionaries said the decision to relocate was a tough one. It meant leaving friends and neighbors behind during a crisis.
“We need wisdom to know what to do and when to do it,” Gierhart said. “It means a lot to know so many people are praying for us.”
Susie Rain is an IMB writer/editor living in Asia. Tess Rivers contributed to this article. The International Mission Board has established a relief fund for the Japan earthquake. Donations may be sent to: Office of Finance, International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Ave., Richmond, Va. 23230. In the memo line write “Japan Response Fund.” Or visit http://imbresources.org/index.cfm/product/detail/prodID/3352 to give online. For further information call the IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.