Airlines scrambled to fly thousands of passengers out of Tokyo on Thursday as fears about Japan's nuclear crisis mounted and the United States joined other nations urging their citizens to consider leaving.
The U.S. authorized the first evacuations of Americans out of Japan and warned U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to any part of the country as unpredictable weather and wind conditions risked spreading radioactive contamination.
The State Department said the government had chartered aircraft to help Americans leave Japan and had authorized the voluntary departure of family members of diplomatic staff in Tokyo, Nagoya and Yokohama — about 600 people.
President Barack Obama placed a telephone call to Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Wednesday to discuss Japan's efforts to recover from last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami, and the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant . Obama promised Kan that the U.S. would offer constant support for its close friend and ally, and "expressed his extraordinary admiration for the character and resolve of the Japanese people," the White House said.
But a hastily organized teleconference late Wednesday with officials from the State and Energy Departments underscored the administration's concerns. The travel warning extends to U.S. citizens already in the country and urges them to consider leaving.