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Japan nuclear crisis: Now, how to evacuate?

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Erico Waga / Special to the Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) A line of over 20 people wait in the snow at a Seven Eleven market in Sendai, Japan.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

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I woke this morning in the port city of Sendai, about 60 miles north of the stricken Japanese nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, to find that the US Embassy in Tokyo was advising all American citizens within a 50 mile radius of the radiation leak to evacuate.

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I am not an American citizen, but I absorb radioactivity in the same way Americans do, and though we're seeing reports of fear exceeding the risks of health hazards, I decided to take the embassy’s advice. Ten miles here or there does not make much difference if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, I thought, and if the Japanese government followed the American lead an awful lot of people from Sendai, a city of about 1 million people, would be blocking the roads. It was time to leave.

I headed west, away from the reactors, but no sooner had I driven past the city limits than it began to snow very, very heavily. Some 15 miles out of town, a policeman flagged me down. Trucks had got stuck in snowdrifts further up the road, he explained, and the road was closed.

I turned around, and found an alternative route along a minor road. As I climbed into the mountains, the snowstorm became a blinding blizzard. Without chains, the baby Honda I have rented was slipping and sliding all over the place.

My car crawled along at 20 m.p.h. and it became clear that my goal of reaching Tokyo by nightfall, 350 miles away by the roundabout route I was taking to steer clear of Fukushima, was completely unrealistic.

Not long after it got dark, the snow was falling so heavily I gave up trying to drive through it. I found a ryokkan, a traditional Japanese inn and sat down cross legged on a tatami mat at a low table to type my article and this blog. Now I am going to test the hot springs this inn is renowned for.

Japan's nuclear crisis: A timeline of key events