On March 14th, the central government’s computer-produced map predicting the pattern of the radiation fallout (the SPEEDI map, now a well-known and infamous entity) was shared with the US Military. This , oficials explained afterwards, was an effort to ensure US support, advice, and cooperation in the days to come. The US used this information in deciding on their own “safety zone” of a full 80 kilometers from the Daiichi plant. The SPEEDI map was not shared directly with residents, or even with the local government officials in Tohoku, who desperately needed the information to make life-changing decisions on behalf of their citizens. In fact, in those first days, there were no communications at all from the central government. Naoto Kan was busy directing an attempt to dump water from a tiny helicopter onto the smoking inferno that was the power plant. We all watched, as time and again the wind blew the meagre amount of water off-course and another helicopter bravely hovered over exactly the right spot in a futile effort to do something–anything–to avert further disaster. And so, lacking guidance and vital information, the Mayor of Namie decided to evacuate his people North, to the area of the town that lay furthest away from the still-smoking reactors.
The people of Namie, alerted by a community radio station broadcast, evacuated to the district of Tsushima, a mountainous region lying a full 30 kilometers Northwest of TEPCO, but still within the confines of Namie. Approximately 10,000 residents fled to Tsushima, where they were welcomed with generosity, receiving shelter and comfort as families, friends, and strangers set up housekeeping together in what they believed was a safe refuge. Mizue Kanno, who owns a spacious house in Tsushima, took in 25 friends and strangers on March 12th. She later told her story to Japan’s Asahi Shinbun, where it was published in serial form, under the title, “The Prometheus Trap“.
The serial story reveals that the radiation levels in Tsushima were, in fact, dangerously high on that day, but that police were forbidden to tell locals. Kanno-san and her housemates learned of this from two mysterious men in white protective suits who drove to the house, stopping only long enough to warn them to evacuate immediately, then speeding off into the night. Sounds like something out of a novel?? Well, everything was surreal at that point in time, and Kanno-san and her new friends decided to trust the warning. Leaving in staggered groups, they all fled the Tsushima district; “Prometheus Trap” follows up, giving details on how they fared and where they eventually landed. Many others who had not been warned and chose to stay on in the district were exposed to varying levels of radiation. Although I share in the widespread dismay over the lack of detailed media coverage on many aspects of the 3-11 triple disaster, I give credit to Asahi for publishing the story, eight installments in all, in both its English and Japanese editions.