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Reporter's notebook: After disasters comes the exodus from Tokyo

By Kyung Lah, CNN
A general view of a darkened Tokyo skyline March 15 during peak hour power cuts forced by the quake and tsunami.
A general view of a darkened Tokyo skyline March 15 during peak hour power cuts forced by the quake and tsunami.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many residents of Tokyo are leaving after the impact of last week's earthquake and tsunami
  • Long lines reported at airports for flights to other parts of disaster-hit nation
  • Tokyo businesses say that they cannot just "pull up and leave"
  • Some nations, such as France, are sending planes to evacuate citizens

Tokyo (CNN) -- Mid-March is not a high travel season for Japan, but as the nuclear emergency at Fukushima nuclear plant persists, the airports are growing clogged with passengers.

They're primarily traveling one way: out of Tokyo.

Lines at Tokyo's Haneda Airport weave back and forth across the departure terminal. Families fill the seats, awaiting flights to Japan's southern and northern islands.

It's a similar scene at Tokyo's largest airport, Narita International, but with bigger crowds, numbering into the thousands.

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It is an unprecedented, albeit orderly, mass exodus out of one of the world's most populated cities amid the growing nuclear emergency at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant.

International residents are the ones able to leave quickly, like French citizen Matthew Delboe. "I think when you're praying for the winds to go one way, it's time to go," says Delboe, traveling out of Tokyo to the southern island of Kyushu.

The French foreign ministry says that the first plane of French people evacuated from Japan landed in Paris. The French government says it will have information about additional planes in the upcoming days.

But it wasn't his government's actions that led Delboe to want to leave Tokyo. It's the lack of clarity about the future of the plant, he explains. "Two days ago, I thought there was absolutely no risk. But now I think it's stupid to stay when you can leave."

It appeared many in downtown Tokyo were also either leaving or simply absent from their jobs.

Restaurants say they've had slow business all week. Streets in business districts, normally bustling with people at the lunch hour on Wednesday, look like a weekend or a holiday.

"It's scary," says an owner of a noodle shop, sitting outside his restaurant. When asked if he would leave, he says no. "I have my entire life here. I can't just pull up and leave."

Zach Ogura, a salesman in downtown Tokyo, says he understands why so many people are leaving Tokyo, but believes at this point, it's a bit of an overreaction.

"At this moment in time, I'm pretty comfortable here, doing biz as usual, but I don't know, in a few days or so, I don't know."

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