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Leaving Japan: Nuclear Fears Send Americans Packing

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Leaving Japan: Nuclear Fears Send Americans Packing

Leaving Japan: Nuclear Fears Send Americans Packing

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Fear surrounding the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has caused many foreigners, including Americans, to flee Japan.

From Tokyo, NPR's John Ydstie the reports on their departure and the reaction it's prompted among the Japanese.

JOHN YDSTIE: On Roppongi Street in downtown Tokyo, passengers board an express bus to Narita Airport.

Ms SANDRA HOROWITZ: Hey, hey. Keek, sit.

YDSTIE: Sandra Horowitz loads her Golden lab, Kiki, and her cat, Bootsie, both in cages, into the bus's luggage hold.

Ms. HOROWITZ: It is a very difficult decision to leave. But I have two children - three children, one is in the States. So it just was the right thing to do for now and my husband will be staying here.

YDSTIE: She and her children, Caroline age 17 and Evan, 14, are headed for Portland, Oregon.

Ms. HOROWITZ: Well, I think we're just concerned about a lot of different things that are going on, and the nuclear plant situation. And just in case, you know, we don't want to wait until the last possible second.

YDSTIE: And Horowitz has lots of company. Friday morning, Narita Airport is packed with travelers. Long lines largely made up of women and children, snaked from the check-in desk down the hall into the shopping and restaurant area.

Unidentified Man: This is Delta cue, only for the U.S.-bound flight.

YDSTIE: The largely American crowd is headed for familiar sounding places: Tennessee, Los Angeles, Detroit.

Navy wife Elizabeth Morrow and her daughter, Brenna, are among them.

Ms. ELIZABETH MORROW: My husband is deployed, and knowing that he's not home, that really makes me feel unsafe with my two-year-old child. That's why I'm going home.

YDSTIE: Like everyone in Japan, Morrow has been following the crisis at the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant with a mix of fear and confusion.

Mr. MORROW: I'm not a nuclear physicist. I'm not a doctor. But you hear the word radiation and, yes, it could be like having a chest x-ray. But that word is a scary word. And when you have a two-year-old child, if you don't feel like you can go outside and let her play and enjoy the fresh air and enjoy being a child, then that's kind of what's making me feel unsafe.

Ms. KIM BARBER: My name is Kim Barber. I'm going to Oregon and it's a precaution. You just never know what's going to happen. Family members are concerned and I don't want to give them heart attacks.

YDSTIE: Barber's husband, who's Japanese and works at a software company in Tokyo, is staying behind. So she pushes a huge luggage cart with one hand. The other guides a baby stroller that holds her 18-month-old son, Shukun.

Ms. BARBER: And I don't want to be 10 years down the road and him have cancer and then thinking to myself, it's because I stayed.

YDSTIE: In contrast to the tense scene at the airport, back in downtown Tokyo, things seem calm and quite normal. Shinichi Morisada is on his lunch break.

Mr. SHINICHI MORISADA: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: He doesn't get nervous.

Mr. MORISADA: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: No. No, not at all.

YDSTIE: Morisada, who works for a real estate company, says his colleagues are calm, too. Still, Norita Satiyo, who works in an office nearby, doesn't blame the foreigners for leaving.

Ms. NORITA SATIYO: If I stayed in overseas and faced such, you know, accident, I think I go back Japan.

YDSTIE: You would go home?

Ms. SATIYO: Yeah.

YDSTIE: Nobuaki Matsura, a systems engineer, agrees with Satiyo.

Mr. NOBAKI MATSURA (Systems Engineer): (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: He thinks that it's quite reasonable to leave Tokyo. But because of that, Japanese people get nervous. So don't get us panic.

YDSTIE: Don't make us panicked.

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

YDSTIE: Despite the calm and stoicism on the surface, things aren't normal. The news on the reactors is troubling. The rolling blackouts at night are eerie. The images from the north are devastating. Some Tokyo residents are hoarding food. And the aftershocks from the earthquake still come.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Tokyo.

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