Maui News

Hawaii Expats Monitor Disaster Developments in Japan

March 16, 2011, 9:31 AM HST
* Updated March 16, 2:00 PM
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By Wendy Osher

Photograph: Toshirharu Kato, Japanese Red Cross showing the coordinated military effort to transport evacuees. Courtesy, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Hawaii expatriates now living in Japan continue to monitor news reports and radiation levels in day six of a series of disasters.  The situation started with a large scale earthquake, followed by a deadly tsunami, and escalated yesterday with a surge in radiation levels at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant.

“Friends are planning on sending their families back to Hawaii – I have students that are leaving,” said Scott Imaye, a former Hawaii resident who now lives in the Kagurazaka region of Tokyo.  The capitol city is located about 136 miles from Fukushima, and about an hour-and-a-half south of the tsunami stricken region of Sendai by bullet train.

Today, the Embassy of the U.S. in Tokyo, Japan recommended, as a precaution, that American citizens who live within 50 miles (80 km) of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or take shelter indoors, if safe evacuation is not practical.

Although he described his location as far from the impacted northern region of the country, the effects of the events have rippled into daily life outside of the disaster zone.  Scheduled blackouts and modified train schedules are among the steps being taken to conserve electricity in outlying regions, according to Imaye.  Empty shelves at supermarkets and convenience stores is also evidence of the uncertainty that has settled in the region south of the disaster.

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“What has been really shocking is the hoarding of food here in the capital,” said Imaye. “Despite government warning against hoarding, it still persists,” said Imaye after witnessing a woman throw at least 20 boxes of curry and pasta sauces into her grocery basket.

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Imaye, who has been communicating with friends and family via facebook, said news among the foreign community has been flowing fast.  In addition to the Japanese headlines, there’s also foreign news and domestic information generated by French, German and US sources.

“Add in the the mails containing rumors of impending earthquakes, polluted rain, possibilities of radiation traveling to Tokyo and ambiguous reports, it is easy to understand how stress can really build up,” said Imaye.

Another observation was the crowded conditions at both Narita and Haneda Airports.  The Reuters news service reported that the French embassy in Tokyo urged its nationals in the capitol to leave or head south due to the risk of radiation.

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“I read an article today that noted that the number of French in Tokyo has dropped from 5,000 to 2,000,” said Imaye who lives in an area with a heavy French presence.  “I can say, it really feels like a lot of them have left,” he said.

Here in the U.S. a travel advisory was issued from the Department of the State on March 13th requesting all non-emergency official U.S. government personnel to defer travel to Japan.  It also urged U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan.  The alert is set to expire on April 1, 2011.

In the interim, flights continue between Japan and Hawaii, with a Hawaiian Airlines flight departing last night for Tokyo’s Haneda airport.  The flight utilized a Boeing 767-300 aircraft that is capable of carrying up to 264 passengers.  Two more flights are scheduled between the locations this week.

(***Photo Courtesy, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)

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