Local News

Raleigh woman fears for daughter, grandchildren in Japan

Posted March 22, 2011 4:46 p.m. EDT
Updated March 23, 2011 3:15 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.