MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said it is prioritizing the evacuation of Filipinos in Fukushima Prefecture and other nearby cities in Japan in danger of exposure to radiation from a damaged nuclear power plant.
DFA Spokesman Ed Malaya said Japanese authorities have declared a 20-30 km exclusion zone from the Fukushima plant while other countries recommended an 80-km exclusion zone. He said the embassy chartered 3 buses to bring Filipinos in Fukushima and nearby prefectures to Tokyo, which is 250 kilometers away from the plant.
"Contingency planning is already being done for planes and boats that will be sent to Tokyo, Japan if Filipinos there need to be evacuated," he told radio dzMM.
He added that the DFA is in talks with Philippine Airlines and other carriers to increase flights to Tokyo if an evacuation is warranted.
Malaya said a two-man team headed by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Special and Ocean Concerns Jose Brillantes and DFA Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs Executive Director Maynard Montealegre flew to Japan on Friday morning to help assess the situation on the ground and to revalidate the contingency plan.
100 evacuated to Tokyo
A report by ABS-CBN News correspondent Alvin Elchico said 58 Filipinos in Koriyama and Fukushima cities were fetched by a bus and brought to Tokyo. A total of 100 Filipinos have already been evacuated to Tokyo since Wednesday, he added.
"In Koriyama City, there was even a group of Chinese asking to board the bus thinking that the rescue was for everyone and we were supposed to go to Iwaki City, but the embassy officials decided not to push through with the mission due to damaged roads," he said.
The ABS-CBN News team also received calls from Filipinos in Sendai, Chiba and Iwate prefecture asking Philippine authorities to help them evacuate to Tokyo or even back to Manila.
Some Filipinos have complained that foreign nationals are being evacuated out of Tokyo by their governments due to mounting fears of a nuclear disaster.
Crisis level 2
Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the embassy is now at crisis level 2 in Japan, which means that Filipinos are encouraged to consider voluntary departure on their own.
He said the government will arrange and pay for voluntary repatriation once the situation reaches crisis level 3.
The DFA official said the embassy is waiving processing fees for Filipinos in Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and Ibaraki.
A 9.0-magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami on Friday caused catastrophic damage to Japan's northeast coast, with police reporting that more than 11,000 people are dead or missing.
It also badly damaged a nuclear power plant 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, leading to a series of explosions and fires that have unleashed potentially dangerous levels of radiation.
The threat of radiation poisoning triggered moves by some foreign governments, including China and some in Europe, to start evacuating their citizens.
The Philippines said it had no immediate plans to begin mass evacuations, saying it would follow the advice of Japanese authorities who have insisted harmful doses of radiation have only affected areas close to the plant.
PAL ready to assist
A spokesman of Philippine Airlines, meanwhile, said the airline is standing ready to accept emergency cargo shipment bound for Japan.
"We will give priority to shipments by accredited charities non-profit organizations and reputable civic groups. They may drop off donations at PAL foundation offices," PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said.
Villaluna confirmed PAL officials have been talking to government officials regarding the possibility of repatriation or evacuation of Filipinos in Japan.
"We are simply awaiting the instruction of Philippine government and we shall be ready to fly our planes. It's a matter of arranging flights and coordinating flights," she said.
The DFA has activated a Crisis Management Center for families who have relatives in Japan. The hotline numbers at the DFA-OUMWA's Crisis Management Center are 834-4646 and 834-4580. Requests for information may also be sent through e-mail address [email protected]
In Japan, Filipinos may contact the following Embassy numbers in cases of emergency: (03)5562-1573, (03)5562-1574, (03)5562-1570, (03)5562-1590. The Embassy can also be reached by email through: [email protected]
The consulates' hotlines are as follows: (06) 6910-7881 for the Philippine Consulate General in Osaka, (011) 614-8090 for the Honorary Consulate in Sapporo, and (019) 629-9139 for the Honorary Consulate in Morioka. With reports from Alvin Elchico, ABS-CBN News, and Agence France-Presse