SEATTLE – Hundreds of U.S. military family members fleeing Japan following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor troubles there arrived Saturday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where they awaited travel arrangements that would take them to homes around the country.
Nearly 240 family members – including 190 children – landed after a 10-hour flight chartered by the Defense Department from Yokota Air Base, said Navy Region Northwest spokesman Sean Hughes. They’re the first of what is expected to be thousands of military personnel and their families arriving at Sea-Tac over the next week or so.
The families evacuated voluntarily, many over concerns about radiation. The Defense Department paid travel costs and provided other emergency financial assistance.
“I thought it was in the best interest of my family,” said Jennifer Hamuka, who was traveling home to St. Louis with her two teenage children. “The radiation risk isn’t bad right now, but I didn’t want to take the chance of there being a big risk in the near future.”
The weary travelers spent much of the day waiting as USO volunteers helped them arrange housing, transportation and loans if necessary. Some sprawled out and tried to sleep, while others read or passed the time on laptops. A public information officer from Naval Base Kitsap sat in a circle with children and told stories.
Hamuka, a 40-year-old English teacher whose husband is stationed with the Air Force at Yakota, said she had been living in Japan for nearly three years and hoped to return within a month.
Nine pets made the trip, Hughes said.
The next evacuation flight was expected to arrive Monday at Sea-Tac.