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Some Japanese staying put despite radiation threat

From Paula Hancocks, CNN
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Japanese residents: We're not leaving
  • Some Japanese residents in the evacuation zone are refusing to leave
  • Damage to roads within the 12-mile evacuation area renders transportation difficult
  • Officials again urge residents near the Fukushima nuclear plant to evacuate

(CNN) -- In Futaba, Japan, the threat of death by radiation poisoning is not enough to compel some residents to obey the Japanese government's order to leave their homes.

Futaba is within the 12-mile evacuation zone surrounding the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant where crews are struggling to contain radiation spilling out of the facility -- a disaster created by a March 11 earthquake-triggered tsunami.

The nuclear accident has turned Futaba into a ghost town, almost. Trains no longer run to this northern Japan farming community. The clean-up of the damage wrought by the earthquake has not started and the only people on the streets are members of Japan's self-defense forces, all dressed head to toe in protective clothing.

However, government forces conducting house-by-house searches have found people who refuse to get out of Futaba. Some say they are too sick or old to leave their homes. Others say they stayed behind, or managed to return, to feed their animals.

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"We've come to help you go to the evacuation center," a security forces officer told one woman during a recent visit to her home.

"No, no, we cannot go," the woman replied.

The woman said she couldn't leave because her husband suffers from Alzheimer's disease and has a bad leg that renders him unable to get out of bed. When the officer told the woman her daughter is worried about her, the woman still refused to obey the evacuation order.

A security forces member told CNN that two days after the visit, they managed to persuade the woman to leave Futaba with her husband.

"We are explaining how serious the situation is to people, because radiation is something you can't see with your eyes," said Kei Higuchi, a representative of the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

"However, some of those who remain in the danger zone, find adapting to a new environment even more challenging," Higuchi said, "so they want to stay at home."

Stubborn residents aren't the only problem complicating the evacuation, according to security forces. Earthquake damage to roads has made it difficult to travel through the area.

Nevertheless, government officials remain adamant that residents who live within 12 miles of the Fukushima plant must leave.

"We would like to request once again that residents stay away because it's a very risky area with contamination, Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "We urge residents not to return to the 20 kilometer (12 mile) radius area."

U.S. government guidelines call for residents who live more twice as far from the Fukushima plant to leave the area.

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