As the State Department flew its first group of evacuees out of Japan yesterday, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said the United States would be prepared to evacuate as many as 87,300 U.S. citizens.
Adm. Robert Willard, head of the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Command, said the U.S. is operating four commercial aircraft out of Narita Airport near Tokyo for citizens who want to leave the country.
The 87,300 people include U.S. military personnel and families in Japan, including the large naval base at Yokosuka, Willard said in a news teleconference from Camp H.M. Smith to the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, officials were uncertain how many American citizens fleeing Japan might end up in the islands.
The Pacific Command had no word yesterday on whether to expect any military members stationed in Japan ‘Aî or their families ‘Aî from the evacuation, spokeswoman Navy Lt. Theresa Donnelly said.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s office also had no idea whether planeloads of U.S. citizens in Japan were expected to arrive in Hawaii. The Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki, which caters to the military, said it had no large numbers of sudden bookings from Asia.
The State Department has urged Americans in Japan to consider departing while authorizing the voluntary departure of families of U.S. government employees in Tokyo, Nagoya and Yokohama.
The first flight of fewer than 100 dependents of State Department employees in the northeastern region of Japan left yesterday for Taipei, and more flights are expected today.
Thousands of military dependents could head for the United States, the designated ‘safe haven."
The authorization for their departure provides for a temporary stop in South Korea, where U.S. Forces Korea is preparing temporary accommodations, the Department of Defense said.
The University of Hawaii said it has been in contact with 27 UH-Manoa students and an additional eight from UH-Hilo who are in southern Japan on study-abroad, exchange or graduate studies programs, spokeswoman Lynne Waters said.
‘We are in communication with them, and are actively assisting them in abiding by this travel warning from the U.S. State Department," Waters said in a statement.
Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum for Strategic and International Studies, said the statements from the State Department and Pentagon were carefully worded to not be seen as critical of the Japanese government ‘Aî while looking out for the interests of U.S. citizens.
‘They’re walking a diplomatic tightrope,"’Glosserman said. ‘They don’t want to be seen as expressing lack of confidence or suggesting the situation is other than what the Japanese government says it is."
Glosserman supported the language in the statements.
‘The last thing you want to say is, ‘Get on a plane and go home.’ That causes panic and it may not be right," Glosserman said. ‘We want to be careful but we don’t want to overreact."
Star-Advertiser news services contributed to this report.