SOMA, Japan — 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 March 11’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
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
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.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rain is an IMB writer/editor living in Asia. Tess Rivers
contributed to this article.)
(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical
Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new
Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank
you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or
issues with items we run, please contact [email protected]
or call 919-847-2127.)