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Raleigh woman fears for daughter, grandchildren in Japan

Posted March 22, 2011
Updated March 23, 2011

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— Every time Ruth Bowers sees images of what looks like a war zone in Japan, she nervously thinks about her daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons with autism. 

Both parents work for the U.S. Department of Defense. Bower’s daughter, Robin Blaisdell, teaches children from Navy families at an American school near Japan's largest U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka. 

“I kept asking her, ‘Are you safe? Are you safe?’ and she kept saying, ‘The safest I can be,’” Bowers said of her conversation Tuesday with her daughter. “I asked if she felt safe this morning and she said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘I’m very scared.’"

Japanese residents have been dealing with disaster since March 11 when a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the country's northeast coast. During the incident, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant's cooling systems were damaged, creating the threat of a meltdown. Since then, conditions at the plant have been volatile with plumes of smoke rose from two reactor units Monday.

Bowers comes from a military family and knows they take care of their own. When she heard Tuesday morning that the USS George Washington was being moved away from the base because of fears of radiation, she thought for sure her daughter's family would be part of the evacuations.

“She would like to be gone. She said most of the military families have left. Today she has four students and no power and it was cold in the classroom,” Bowers said.

Bowers said she learned that only family members of government employees are being given free flights out. Because Bowers' daughter and son-in-law work for the Department of Defense they are considered essential employees. Bowers said they were told they would have to take leave and pay their own way home. The family of four can’t afford to spend more than $12,000 on airfare, Bowers said. 

“It has me very scared, scared for her and my grandchildren. If they don’t have the money and something happens, what are they just going to be casualties of war?” Bowers said. “There’s not a war, but that’s the way it looks.”

Bowers said the family was ordered on Tuesday to get potassium iodide pills, which help prevent radioactive iodine from causing thyroid cancer, for which children are most at risk in a nuclear disaster.

The family is living off of canned goods and water because their frozen food is starting to rot. The power has been going on and off for a week, Bowers said. 

The Department of Defense told WRAL News on Tuesday that Bowers’ grandchildren – Brandon, 15, and Andrew, 10 – could fly back for free on a military flight, but their parents are not comfortable allowing them to fly back alone. If their parents wanted to accompany them, they would need to pay their own way.

The department said employees can try to work with their supervisors, but since evacuations are not mandatory, they believe their personnel are not in danger.

Raleigh woman fears for family in Japan Raleigh woman worries for daughter, grandchildren

Bowers said her daughter and son-in-law were ordered to report to work.

“I just don’t understand this. I don’t understand why they can’t help the civilian workers for the government. Why they can’t pay their way out,” Bowers said. “They are giving a service, too. If she’s so essential to them, then they should have enough sense to get some way for them to get out. It should be mandatory.”

CNN and CBS News reported Tuesday afternoon that the U.S. military is considering a mandatory evacuation of Yokosuka for American troops and their families in Japan. No decision has been announced. 

Update: On Wednesday, the Department of Defense told WRAL News that they would allow Robin Blaisdell or her husband to accompany their two children on a military flight from Japan to North Carolina for free. However, because schools in Japan remain open, the parent accompanying the children would be required to return to Japan. 

18 Comments

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  • ncdixie1 Mar 23, 2011

    Well God Bless them. But I don't wont' to hear the cryin'. Living and moving from your homeland is a huge risk in many ways. When they both signed the oath of office as a DoD employee they understood these risks. It is so not the responsibility of anyone except the parents to get themselves out of the situation. Find the boys a friend on that flight and send them home. I'm sure they could find those boys a friend to fly and look after them. I think this is a plea to the American public to send money so they all can come home free of charge.

  • thatshortkid18 Mar 23, 2011

    I will say my opinions and thoughts as a Raleigh native living in Tokyo, Japan.

    Radiation is not a health danger here! Even when we are getting slightly higher levels in Tokyo. This is still MILLIONS of times lower than a dangerous level (100mSv).
    Even with radioactive spinach/milk, the amount required to increase lifetime cancer risk 4%: 58,000 glasses of the milk found, or 820 pounds of Spinach. Also the I-131 half-life is only 8 days.

    It's not a good idea to just blindly ingest this radiation safe or not, but there is no mandatory immediate need for all US government/military employees to leave. The government is not doing something cruel or such, those fears and opinions have no basis other than emotional rousing caused by the media.

    Also taking Potassium Iodide pills can be very dangerous for anyone especially for pregnant women and the unborn child.

    And the plane tickets: 12,000!??
    When I buy economy tickets off Japanese sites round trip is ~750. American ones ~1000-1500.

  • Glass Half Full Mar 23, 2011

    Tough situation, however, autistic or not, if sending the children on a flight without their parents meant saving their lives or substantially decreasing their risk of future cancer, I would have to do it. I'd have someone meet them on the other end, but if I could get them out I would.

  • hihuwatlu Mar 23, 2011

    i realize the kids being autistic makes things a little more challenging but maybe they could find someone else who is flying out that has some experience with autism who could fly with them, maybe another parent, teacher, psychologist, etc. If not, it sounds as if the best solution is for one parent to take leave long enough to fly with the kids and then fly back. They'd have to purchase one ticket but the kids would be safe.

  • kiljadn Mar 23, 2011

    My apologies for the earlier comment - the written article did not mention that the children were autistic AT ALL. Typical lazy WRAL web editing.

    Were I in that situation I wouldn't send autistic kids back by themselves, either.

  • boatmonkey82 Mar 23, 2011

    Let me tell you , if my kids were facing ANY kind of danger and there was a mean for them to get to saftey but i had to stay ... thats a no brainer . send them to the grandparents ina heart beat . i dont think they airlines or the gov would let anything happen to them kids during a flight im sure they would be looked after

  • cubed32696 Mar 23, 2011

    It could be that they are contractors for DoD. My company does contract work for federal and state goverments. We are not their employees. We are civilians with contracts with the government. Think companies like Blackwater (as horrid as they are), they were/are contractors, but not government employees.

  • amandajeanda Mar 23, 2011

    Seems to me that grandma could fly over and pick up the grandkids and bring them back, right?

  • mpheels Mar 23, 2011

    I'm a bit confused. DoD has offered free flights for the kids, and paid for the parents. Why can't one of the parents take a few days leave and accompany the kids to the US, then fly back to Japan? They say they don't want to pay $22K for four tickets, but really they only have to pay for one ticket if their true concern is getting the kids out ASAP while still accompanying them. It isn't the ideal solution, but any port in a storm, right?

  • msnfnp Mar 22, 2011

    Yes, someone who works for DoD is a government employee. The problem is that both parents are considered essential to the mission for some reason. I don't think autistic children should fly alone if they don't know anyone on the airplane.

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