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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan – Misawa leaders told the base community they need to know how many family members plan to leave Japan under a voluntary evacuation program announced Thursday.

Col. Michael Rothstein, commander of the 35th Fighter Wing, spent about an hour on the radio Friday afternoon providing Misawa community members more information on what the military is calling a “voluntary departure” plan. The Defense Department came up with the plan this week as fears grow over a possible radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant, about 130 miles north of Tokyo.

Rothstein said those wishing to leave need to immediately provide their names through their commands so Misawa can request air support.

“I’ve got to get that list of names and list of numbers,” Rothstein said. “You can’t wait to decide.”

Officials said they still don’t have details on when the flights might leave.

Rothstein said that family members can expect to make an interim stop at a military base in the region – possibly Guam, Okinawa, South Korea or Alaska – before continuing on to a final destination of their own choosing in the United States. He said the current plan is to have families return to Misawa within about 30 days, but those traveling should plan for the possibility of being away longer than that.

Rothstein said he still believes Misawa is safe, but “there is a lot of uncertainty here.”

Continued earthquake aftershocks, a heavy work schedule, gasoline rationing — and the indirect impact of off-base food, fuel and heating oil shortages — will continue to make life difficult at Misawa, he said.

“We are at a serious, serious time right now,” Rothstein said. “I want you to just think hard about it. ... This may be the right decision for you and your family.”

Rothstein answered several questions from community members, including what the colonel intended to do with his own family.

“I don’t know yet,” Rothstein said. He said he’s “leaning very hard toward staying,” but that he would have to sit down with his wife after the radio show “and make that final decision.”

He said he’s thinking about hardships at Misawa and in the local community when considering what to do.

“I’m not confident that I’m making the right decision,” he said. “That’s as honest as I can be.”

flackt@pstripes.osd.mil

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