The US Navy said Thursday afternoon it would start evacuating families from Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Yokosuka Naval Base, near Tokyo. A few hours later, officials at Misawa Air Base, in northern Japan, did the same. Camp Zama, a U.S. Army facility near Tokyo, said it was allowing families and non-essential workers to voluntarily leave.
In a radio address Thursday afternoon, Col. Otto Feather, 374th Airlift Wing commander, said he expects Yokota Air Base to join the list soon.
“For those folks that really want to go, I think we’re going to be able to offer an opportunity in the next couple of days, or so, to make that happen,” Feather said in a release on the Yokota website.
At Atsugi and Yokosuka, families of emergency first responders and deployed sailors will be the first to evacuate, according to Navy command officials involved in the emergency meetings.
As of Thursday afternoon, the plan was to evacuate families on buses, then transfer them onto planes at Atsugi and Narita International Airport. Flights for military family members will go straight to the United States, the official said.
The evacuations could start Thursday night, or Friday morning at the latest, officials say.
The Navy already has the capabilities of evacuating up to 10,000 people per day. If the Navy can secure the additional aircraft, it would be able to bump that number to 18,000 per day.
There are about 25,000 people at Yokosuka Naval Base, roughly 19,000 who are Americans or family members with Defense Department ID cards. There are 6,500 people at Atsugi, though the number of Americans wasn’t immediately available at press time.
“The order of departure: Women and children first, non-essential person second, essential personnel third, and then me,” Gardner said during a broadcast on the base command channel.
Before boarding any plane, military personnel and their families are remindeed that they need the proper documentation. This includes DoD ID card, passport and DoD 2585 form, among others.
According to a State Department announcement received by Navy officials, “the Department of Defense will implement the Dept. of State-approved voluntary departure for eligible DoD dependents.
As with State Dept. dependents, these measures are temporary, and dependents will return when the situation is resolved.
Naval Facilities Far East commander Capt. Robert McLean told all workers in a 2:30 p.m. e-mail message that “as a prudent action we are going to begin to voluntarily relocate dependents from Yokosuka and Atsugi. Local bases will provide amplifying guidance on priorities, guidelines, mustering locations, etc...
“If you have dependents evacuating, please ensure they have contact numbers.”
Navy facilities workers were told to remain, according to McLean’s e-mail message.
“Again, I am not aware of any change to the current health risk situation in Yokosuka and Atsugi, but due to the ongoing reactor issues, this is a prudent, pre-emptive effort,” McLean said.
Navy officials plan to go door-to-door to hand out bar-coded bracelets which would automatically manifest families, according to command officials involved in the emergency meetings.
All children at Yokosuka Naval Base and Naval Air Facility Atsugi schools were dismissed early Thursday afternoon following command meetings with teachers.
The voluntary evacuation is not a full non-combatant evacuation order, which would make evacuation mandatory for non-emergency essential personnel Navy officials also indicated that helicopters assigned to the USS George Washington carrier strike group were being moved to Misawa Air Base, both to create space at Atsugi and to assist with relief efforts in northern Japan.