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Japan's nuclear evacuees wonder if they'll ever see home again

More than 200,000 people have been ordered out of an area within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where two reactors have gone into partial meltdown.

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A woman covers her face at an evacuation center set in a gymnasium in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture in northern Japan, March 14, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Monday that the situation at a quake-damaged nuclear plant remained worrisome and that authorities were doing their utmost to prevent damage from spreading.

Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

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The first Yoshiko Watanabe heard there might be a problem at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant where she works as a cleaner was early on Saturday morning. The community radio that the municipal authorities had installed a month earlier in her home came on unexpectedly at around 8 a.m. local time.

“It said we had to go to the town hall to evacuate because there was trouble at reactor No. 1,” she recalls. “I left with just my purse and the clothes I was wearing.”

Now, Mrs. Watanabe and 1,250 others from her home town of Narahama are sleeping on the floor of classrooms in a junior school here, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) away, unsure if they will ever live in their homes again.

“Sometimes I wonder, but I try not to think like that,” she says, her eyes moist, standing in the school entry hall amid piles of cartons of food, clothes, blankets, and water.

More than 200,000 evacuated

The Narahama evacuees huddled in blankets on the floor, including a score of patients from an old peoples’ home, are among the more than 200,000 residents ordered out of an area within a 20 kilometer (12.5 mile) radius of the Daiichi facility, where two reactors have gone into partial meltdown, according to the government, in the wake of Friday’s massive offshore earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Their mood is one of shock and resignation.

A third of Narahama families have someone employed at the nuclear power plant says Makoto Mizenoya, whose mother works in the canteen there. “We never ever expected anything to go wrong,” she says.

Caught off guard

The Narahama authorities had no plan to cope with such a disaster says Hiroshi Suzuki, a weary local official and community organizer whose stubbled chin betrays the fact that he has not been home since the tsunami struck.

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