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Japan earthquake: Terrified civilians confront contamination nightmare

By Anne Madden

Orderly queues of men, women and children waited nervously in the cold yesterday to be checked for radioactive contamination in Koriyama city.

Some 90,000 people had been evacuated from areas near the nuclear power plant which exploded after Japan’s biggest earthquake and thousands were being checked at evacuation centres. Men in biohazard-outfits, goggles and respirators swept the line of people with a Geiger counter to check for radiation exposure.

People who lived within the evacuation zone, or who showed signs of radiation exposure were separated from others and made to take showers to scrub their skin of radioactive material.

Wearing yellow plastic bootees on his feet, Tetsuya Kumagami (35) had undergone a decontamination shower with his mother, father, wife and two-year-old daughter.

“There has been no system,” Mr Kumagami said. “We came here of our own accord. Our town, Namie, was only 20km away (from the explosion) and I think it is not fit for human habitation. The government has not done enough, we even have to dispose of our contaminated clothes,” he said.

Masanori Ono was queuing patiently with the other evacuees, desperately hoping to get the all-clear.

“There is radiation leaking out, and since the possibility (of exposure) is high, it's quite scary,” said the 17-year-old.

In the devastated town of Minami Sanriku, Eiko Chiba huddles beside her daughter on a futon.

“We didn't hear about the nuclear plant explosion until today,” she said. “It's terrifying. All we can do is hope the people in charge are doing their best.”

Mrs Chiba was working in an office a few kilometres inland when the tsunami struck.

“We went up on top of the building to watch the water. It bulged at the side of the buildings then rushed in and submerged all the houses. Then it took them away,” she said.

Her husband, a truck driver, was in Tokyo when the quake struck.

“He's safe,” she said. “I talked to him on his cellphone. But he's stuck in the city.”

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