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Foreigners flee Japan as warnings mount

Britain charters Tokyo-Hong Kong flights for nationals
London (AFP) March 17, 2011 - Britain on Thursday said it was chartering flights from Tokyo to Hong Kong for its nationals trying to leave Japan as foreigners fleeing the country's nuclear crisis filled up commercial flights. The move came a day after Britain advised its nationals to consider leaving Tokyo and northeast Japan following the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent explosions at the Fukushima nuclear facility. "The UK government is chartering flights from Tokyo to Hong Kong to supplement commercially available options for those wishing to leave Japan," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

"The first option for leaving Japan should remain commercial routes." Britons and their families directly affected by the natural disasters will not be charged for the charter flights and London will also pay for their onward travel to Britain, the Foreign Office said. For those not directly affected, there will be a charge of 600 (690 euros, $960) per person for the Hong Kong flights, it added. Foreign Office staff will be available to help with onward bookings.
The United States has also chartered aircraft to take Americans out of the country and France has assigned two government planes to pull its people out. British officials have stressed there is "no real human health issue" but concerns over the developing situation at the Fukushima site prompted London to update its travel advice. London has also advised Britons to stay outside an 80-kilometre (50-mile) radius of the power station. Chinook helicopters on Thursday dumped tonnes of water on the stricken nuclear plant in a desperate effort to cool reactors crippled by the earthquake and tsunami, which pulverised the northeast coast and left thousands dead.
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) March 17, 2011
Airline tickets sold out Thursday and firms hired private jets to move staff out as foreign governments told their nationals to get out of Tokyo, fearing the nuclear crisis could escalate.

The United States, Australia and several European nations urged their citizens in the sprawling capital and the quake-hit area northeast of there to leave, but some people were trying to get out of Japan altogether.

The US State Department chartered flights for Americans wishing to flee and authorised its embassy staff and their families to leave the country, after US nuclear regulators questioned safety measures taken by the Japanese.

With experts offering contradictory opinions on how serious the situation is at the Fukushima atomic plant 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, one French businessman with operations in Japan said his company was "struggling to find a consensus".

He said if the company evacuated foreign staff, it would also have to offer passage to worried locals.

"There is a huge perception gap between the Japanese in Tokyo and the group's management in France," the man told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"This is not a company accustomed to working in countries at risk, so we do not know how to cope with such a situation. There is not even a crisis-management team in Paris."

China moved thousands of its citizens to Tokyo for evacuation from the country and France said it was assigning two government planes to pull its people out.

Several large Nordic companies, including IKEA and H&M, offered to help their Japanese employees leave Tokyo and surrounding areas and relocate further south.

Indian IT firms were helping employees to leave, with software firm L&T Infotech saying it had chartered a plane to take all 185 of its staff and their families out of Japan.

The International Bankers' Association said it was "business as usual" for major firms, but an exodus of foreign professionals saw demand surge for private jets, according to Asian operators.

Commercial flights were also under pressure, with just a handful of seats left on most services from Narita -- which serves Tokyo -- to Hong Kong, Singapore or Seoul.

Demand was driving the average price of a one-way ticket above $3,000, far higher than the normal price.

Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said it was the "breakdown of essential services" that had prompted Canberra's evacuation warning, not merely radiation fears, with schools closed and power and transport badly disrupted.

Britain advised its citizens to consider leaving Tokyo and northeastern Japan though British officials said there is still "no real human health issue that people should be concerned about".

Germany, Italy and The Netherlands also advised their nationals to leave the sprawling capital or refrain from travelling to the northeastern region which was destroyed by the 9.0-strength quake and tsunami.

Cathay Pacific was running a special offer for people wishing to flee Japan for Hong Kong and Vietnam Airlines said it would lay on larger planes on its Tokyo-Hanoi route, offering big discounts for Vietnamese wishing to return.

Switzerland promised charter flights if commercial carriers couldn't meet demand and Russia was to begin evacuating dependents of its diplomatic and commercial personnel in Tokyo on Friday.

Hotels were booked out in the western hub of Osaka, with foreigners and Japanese alike descending there from Tokyo in the search for accommodation and office space, including foreign embassies.


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