U.S. relocating military families outside of Japan

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U.S. relocating military families outside of Japan

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People line up to check in at an airline counter at Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, yesterday. The airport was crowded with passengers hoping to leave the country because of the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant accident that have devastated parts of Japan. [AFP/YONHAP]

Despite the Japanese government’s progress in repairing the quake-hit nuclear reactors in Fukushima, fears of radiation contamination in Japan are spreading.

The United States is moving military personnel families in Japan outside of the country on a voluntary basis due to radiation concerns, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea said yesterday.

Stars and Stripes reported that more than 7,900 residents on bases in central and northern Japan were hoping to leave on flights sponsored by the U.S. military.

The families of U.S. military personnel on Honshu, the largest of the four Japanese islands, number around 20,000 and are eligible for the program, Reuters said.

Before the program was launched last Thursday, U.S. forces and their families in Japan were advised to limit outdoor activity, Reuters reported.

Most of military families are bound for the U.S., but according to reports, Korea is also one of the destinations.

“The voluntary evacuation is unprecedented ... instead of a plan where Americans in Korea would come to Japan, now we’re doing it in reverse,” said Capt. Eric Gardner, the commanding officer at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, about 150 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant, in a video message for personnel, Reuters reported.

“So far, there was no U.S. military personnel coming to Korea from Japan on the program, but there could be in the future if the situation in Japan worsens,” said the spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea.

The 14th Fighter Squadron based in Misawa, Japan, may be redeployed to other areas in Asia, and Korea is among the venues being considered, Stars and Stripes reported. The U.S. military told the paper the planned redeployment is for training, saying Misawa’s airfield is being hampered by humanitarian relief efforts.

Some military observers speculate, though, that the fear of radiation contamination is behind the plan.

Concerns over radiation-contaminated food was spreading in Japan after radioactive iodine was detected in milk, spinach and tap water as far away as Tokyo.

That fear is pushing some Japanese citizens to also seek temporary safe haven in Korea, according to local media. YTN reported that more Japanese people than usual have been arriving at Incheon International Airport in recent days, some with school-age children, even though the new semester is only days away.

As of yesterday, Japan restored electricity to three of the six nuclear reactors at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant - No. 2, 5 and 6.

But the No. 3 reactor, the most stricken, continued to show some problems, with plumes of steam from the reactor forcing emergency workers to evacuate for a while.

Meanwhile, a 62-year-old Korean national living in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, was confirmed dead yesterday, according to Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, raising the death toll of Koreans from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami to three. The official toll of dead and missing from the March 11 disaster in Japan surpassed 21,000 yesterday.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]


Related Korean Article[연합]

주일미군 가족들 대피 허용

주한미군 기지로 일단 이송후 미국 등으로 향할 듯

방사능 위기가 고조되고 있는 일본에 주둔하고 있는 미군 가족과 민간인 군무원들이 원할 경우 일본을 떠날 수 있도록 허용하는 조치가 내려졌다.

데이비드 레이펀 미국 국방부 부대변인은 17일 "이번 조치는 미군 가족들이 원할 경우 혼슈(本州) 지방에서 떠날 수 있도록 허가한 조치"라고 밝혔다.

레이펀 부대변인은 "이번 허가로 인해 지정된 대피처는 미국"이라고 말했다.

국방부는 주일미군 가족 및 군무원들의 대피를 위해 주일미군의 공군 수송기 등을 이용할 계획인 것으로 알려졌으며, 주일미군 가족들이 민항기를 이용해 일본을 떠날 경우 추후 비용을 정산해 줄 것으로 알려졌다.

이번 조치는 국무부가 전날 밤 대사관 직원 가족 등에 대해 자발적인 대피를 허용한 것에 이은 조치다.

일본에는 약 5만5천명의 미군이 주둔하고 있으며, 이들의 가족은 4만3천명 이상이고 이 밖에 수천명의 민간인 군무원들이 있다.

국방부의 자발적 대피 허용 조치는 일본의 본토 격인 혼슈 지방에 일단 국한된 것이다.

이에 앞서 로이터통신에 따르면 주일미군 아쓰기 기지의 에릭 가드너 대령은 기지내 방송을 통해 "패닉상태에 빠질 필요는 없다"면서 미군은 하루 약 1만명을 수송할 능력이 있다고 밝혔다.

그는 "향후 24시간 내에 공군수송기와 공군여객기가 아쓰기 기지에 착륙할 것이며, 하루 이틀동안 여성과 아이들부터 먼저 이곳을 떠나 아마도 한국으로 향한 뒤, 그 뒤에 다른 지역으로 수송될 것"이라고 밝혔다.

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