More than eight out of 10 people in the evacuation zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant had no idea there was anything wrong on March 11, 2011, according to the Diet investigation into the accident.
As the reactors at the plant went out of control following the Great East Japan Earthquake at 2:46 p.m. on March 11 and the devastating first impact of the tsunami at about 3:27 p.m., government officials and the plant’s operators quickly realized they were facing an unprecedented crisis.
At 9:23 p.m., the prime minister, Naoto Kan, asked the governor of Fukushima Prefecture and the mayors of Okuma and Futaba to evacuate all residents within a 3-kilometer radius and order all people living between 3 km and 10 km to stay indoors.
But much of the public remained unaware of the crisis for days.
A survey of 10,000 evacuees conducted as part of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission's (NAIIC) inquiry into the disaster, revealed that only 15 percent of respondents from Okuma and Futaba knew by 10 p.m. on March 11 that there had been an accident.
In all of the 12 municipalities that were later included in the evacuation zone, less than 20 percent of residents heard about the nuclear accident on March 11. In some of those municipalities it took until 10 a.m. on March 13, nearly two days after the quake, for more than half of the public to learn of the nuclear accident.
The evacuation zone was expanded to 10 km at 5:44 a.m. on March 12, but only 36 percent of respondents from Okuma and 29 percent from Futaba knew about the accident at 6 a.m. that day. The two towns are situated next to the plant.
The evacuation radius was further expanded to 20 km at 6:25 p.m. on March 12. But as of 7 p.m., one-third of the respondents from Minami-Soma, which was partly within the new evacuation zone, and 60 percent of the respondents from Iitate, farther afield, were still ignorant.
Many of the respondents said they learned about the nuclear disaster from television, radio or the Internet rather than from announcements by the local government.
The panel's survey was conducted by mail in March and April this year. About 21,000 households were randomly selected from the 55,000 households evacuated from the 12 municipalities. Responses were received from 10,633 people.
In the six towns of Namie, Futaba, Okuma, Naraha, Tomioka and Hirono, all located close to the Fukushima No. 1 plant, more than 60 percent of the residents said they had been forced to move four times or more during the confused evacuation.
More than 20 percent said they moved six times or more. One in three people from Namie said they had moved at least six times.
Many complained about the mental stress of the prolonged evacuation and the poor quality of their accommodation.
"My husband was shocked to learn he would not be able to return to his native home," one woman from Futaba said. "He fell ill and was hospitalized."
An evacuee from Tomioka said: "I heard a broadcast calling for evacuation, so I headed for other districts, but the evacuation facilities were full everywhere I went. I had to go to several different places."
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