Army evacuates Czechs from Japan
Two army aircraft left Prague for Japan on Tuesday evening to bring back selected Czechs, Poles and Slovaks, primarily women and children, from the disaster-stricken main island of Honshu. Among the evacuees are roughly half of the members of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which was supposed to be touring the country for another week after the earthquake struck. Just over a hundred people have been evacuated, with a promise of more army flights if the situation requires.
“We asked for our flights to be changed immediately after the earthquake was reported so that we could leave as soon as possible, and naturally the planes were hopelessly full, so that is why we have stayed until now. And the other reason is that the aftershocks in Tokyo were not too dangerous and the media was reporting that the situation in the power plant was under control, which has changed. So the priority has been to get our people to a place where there is no immediate danger to their health.”
The orchestra was meant to be playing at several sites where the damage was worst: the city of Sendai near the epicentre of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami has been devastated; in the central eastern city of Kawasaki the roof of the concert hall was destroyed.
“I think it’s a common request and we expected it. The really important and difficult thing is to get all of the information about Czech citizens in Japan and to get them to the airport on time.”
Can you say at this point whether more planes will be sent?
“We will see; it depends on the situation. We have registered about fifteen more requests since yesterday. Unfortunately 25 seats remain unoccupied because some of the Czech citizens didn‘t show at the departure or cancelled just minutes before.”
And you haven’t received any reports of any Czechs who are missing or seriously injured?
As far as humanitarian assistance is concerned, the planes were carrying none, and humanitarian aid from the Czech Republic directly is unlikely. Japan asked the European Union itself for aid, namely financial assistance, on Tuesday evening, and that is reportedly already being coordinated. The EU has asked its member states to offer what they can. How much the Czech Republic will contribute to that is not yet certain.