Text hoax shuts down offices, classes

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2011 06:04 PM | Updated as of Mar 15 2011 03:59 PM

ILOCOS NORTE, Philippines – Some government offices in Vintar, Ilocos Norte provinces and classes at a school in Cagayan de Oro (CDO) closed early on Monday following a rumor spread through text messages that radiation from a nuclear power plant in Japan has reached the Philippines. 

The text message claims, "BBC FLASHNEWS: japan govt cnfirms radiation leak @fukushima nuclear plants. Asian countries shud tke necessary precautions. Remain indoors first 24hrs. Close doors n windows. Swab neck skin w/betadine wr thyroid area is, radiation hits thyroid first.”

Town hall employees in Vintar went home 3 p.m. and shut down their offices after receiving the text message, which the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has described as a hoax.

Vintar Mayor Mayor Jose Foronda allegedly ordered employees to go home to ensure their safety. 

He also allegedly ordered the health office to distribute iodine among town residents.

In Cagayan de Oro, meanwhile, some schools cancelled classes because of the same radiation threat rumors.

Students at a school in Carmen town were told to go home by their principal around 2 p.m., according to an ABS-CBN News crew.

The students said their school principal received the alarming text message.

No truth to ‘radioactive rain’

DOST Secretary Mario Montejo, in an advisory published by the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), urged the public not to believe in rumors that the alleged nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, or other places in Japan threatens to affect other places with radiation.

“The advice circulating that people should stay indoors and to wear raincoats if they go outdoors has no basis and did not come from the DOST or the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Center,”  the PNRI said.

“The DOST clarifies that there is no immediate danger to the Philippines and advises the public not to believe these rumors currently spreading through text messages, emails, the Internet, and other means of communication.”

“The department also advises the public not to entertain these rumors and to stop forwarding such messages so as not to sow panic among the people,” the government agency added.

“The DOST maintains a 24/7 link-up with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the highest authority on nuclear matters for advice on the current situation of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Available data do not indicate any immediate threats to the Philippines.”

Montejo and and PNRI director Dr. Alum dela Rosa earlier assured the public that any nuclear meltdown in Japan will not affect the Philippines

They said that unlike previous nuclear meltdowns such as Chernobyl, nuclear power plants in Japan have structures aimed at stopping the spread of the radioactive waste.

Other scientists worldwide echoed their assessment.  

"At Chernobyl the reactor had reached a huge increase in power, there was no safety container and there was not enough time to evacuate people. At Fukushima the reactor was turned off, there was a safety container and there was enough time to move away the surrounding population," said Marco Ricotti, nuclear plant specialist and professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Milan, in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera. – Reports from Grace Alba, ABS-CBN News Ilocos; Rod Bolivar, ABS-CBN News Northern Mindanao; Reuters