Nearly 8,000 military family members signed up to evacuate Japan
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN, ERIK SLAVIN AND T.D. FLACK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 20, 2011
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — There were no flights scheduled to carry U.S. military family members out of Japan on Sunday, although thousands were still hoping to flee the country’s ongoing nuclear crisis.
According to estimates provided by the military and compiled by Stars and Stripes, more than 7,900 residents at bases in central and northern Japan want to flee on flights sponsored by the U.S. military.
There were 233 family members on the first voluntary evacuation flight from Yokota to Seattle, Wash., on Saturday as Japan continued spraying water on reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant about 130 miles north of Tokyo. Even though power was restored to part of the plant this weekend, the country still faces a possible meltdown that many fear could spread dangerous radiation over the region.
So far, only Yokota has ferried residents out of Japan, but more flights are expected in the next two days.
A flight is scheduled to leave Naval Air Facility Atsugi at 12:20 p.m. Monday, according to a statement from base commander Capt. Eric Gardner. U.S. Forces Japan said there is another flight planned from Yokota on Tuesday.
The military is working to schedule flights through contractors because no military aircraft will be used for the voluntary departures, according to U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Maj. Neal Fisher.
Atsugi plans to move out 2,000 residents, who were prioritized into four categories, with top priority given to pregnant women.
“The plan in place is to take care of all the volunteer departing dependents,” Atsugi spokesman Tim McGough said Saturday night.
Atsugi would also be the closest point of departure for families at Yokosuka Naval Base, where 4,083 residents want to leave, and Camp Zama, where 420 residents had signed up for flights by Sunday. Plans and scheduling for families wishing to leave from those two bases had not been announced as of Sunday morning.
About 320 residents at Yokota had requested to leave Japan on Saturday, and the base said it was continuing to take reservations Sunday for coming flights.
Residents were asked to sign up at the Taiyo Community Center.
“The entire family does not have to come, as a parent or guardian can take care of the processing for their entire family,” according to an announcement by the base Sunday.
Yokota said it plans to schedule 11 flights between now and March 27.
At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, more than 1,100 family members had signed up by noon Sunday for the voluntary evacuation.
It is still unclear when those residents will be able to leave the country.
During a town hall meeting in the base theater Saturday night, 35th Fighter Wing commander Col. Michael Rothstein said he suggested that higher headquarters place Misawa last on the priority list for moving family members out of Japan. He said bases in the greater Tokyo area – south of the brewing nuclear crisis in Fukushima – should be first on the list.