Numbers of Burmese nationals in Japan are reportedly leaving the capital to find safer ground on the west coast or fleeing the country entirely as fears of nuclear fallout grow.
Several governments, including Britain, France, Italy and Australia, have urged their citizens to leave Tokyo as warnings of a possible nuclear cloud drifting down from the stricken nuclear reactors in the northeast cause global panic.
“Burmese nationals are now applying for re-entry permits at Japanese immigration and attempting to leave the country,” said Kyaw Soe, a 40-year-old news translator who lives in Tokyo. “Some have already left; others are moving to stay with their friends or relatives in west [coast] towns.”
He added that the majority of Burmese he knew in Tokyo had however remained, but were rarely leaving their houses.
At one point earlier this week radiation levels in Tokyo, which lies 230 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant, reached 10 times their normal level, although Japanese officials said that it didn’t pose a danger to health.
The anxiety that has followed reports of leaks at several reactors at the plant has spread to Russia and China, where people are reportedly stocking up on iodine and face masks. Airlines have said that flights to Moscow from the far east of Russia, which lies close to Japan, have sold out.
“It is indeed a worrying situation,” Kyaw Soe continued. “The Japanese government told people to keep out of a 30 kilometre radius around the reactor and not to go outside their houses. So far, those who lived within 20 kilometres [of Fukushima] have been evacuated. “
The US has however asked its citizens living within an 80 kilometre radius to evacuate, prompting several other governments to take stricter measures to safeguard their citizens living close to the plant.
Helicopters have been sent up to douse the leaking reactors with water, but early indications show they have done little to reduce levels of radiation. Since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck northeastern Japan on 11 March, triggering a tsunami that destroyed swathes of infrastructure, several reactors at the Fukushima plant have gone up in flames.
Kyaw Soe said that minor earthquakes have continued “non-stop until today”, and varied in strength. “We had about four earthquakes this morning although they weren’t strong”.
The death toll from Japan’s worst recorded natural disaster is nearing 7,000, but tens of thousands remain missing. According to Japan’s foreign ministry, nearly 6,000 Burmese are registered in the country, although the figure for unregistered migrants is likely to be a lot higher. It is not clear whether Burmese are among the quake victims.
The Japanese government said late last week that 2.6 million households are without electricity and nearly 3.2 million people are running out of gas supplies, while 1.4 million people have no access to water. Nearly 600,000 have been evacuated from the country. Those figures are likely to have risen since then.