OFUNATO, Japan — For several hours, Ashley Russell thought his daughter was dead. A missing persons website set up to track Japan's tsunami said so. The Australian father eventually discovered that the post was a hoax and that his daughter, Alice Byron, is safe.
Sydney-based Russell told of his distress Tuesday after finding a message on the Google site Saturday afternoon saying the 21-year-old woman had been confirmed dead at a hospital in the devastated coastal town of Ofunato, where she had been teaching English for nine months.
It cited the name and phone number of a real hospital, but gave a fake doctor's name. Her father said frantic friends in Japan were able to telephone the hospital and confirm the deception.
"There are some evil people out there," said Russell, 48.
"These people are looking for a reaction," said Byron from stricken northeast Iwate prefecture. "There are people on the Internet who want to make light of a bad situation and make edgy jokes. … It doesn't take long for the Internet hate machine to roll into action."
Demand for pill rises
Japan's nuclear crisis is spiking demand in the United States and a few other places for a cheap drug that can protect against one type of radiation damage — even though the risk is only in Japan.
Health agencies in California and western Canada warned Tuesday that there's no reason for people an ocean away to suddenly stock up on potassium iodide.
"Tell them, 'Stop, don't do it,' " said Kathryn Higley, director of radiation health physics at Oregon State University.
The pill can help prevent radioactive iodine from causing thyroid cancer, for which children are most at risk in a nuclear disaster. But government and independent experts say Americans have little to fear from any radiation released by the damaged Japanese nuclear plant.
More troops exposed
More U.S. military crews were exposed to radiation Tuesday as the Pentagon ramped up relief flights over Japan. The Defense Department said the Navy started giving antiradiation pills to some of the exposed, and Americans on two military bases south of Tokyo were advised to stay indoors as much as possible.
Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet, said that while there was no danger to the public from the radiation, the commander recommended as a precaution that military personnel and their families at the two bases, Yokosuka and Naval Air Facility Atsugi, limit their outdoor activities and seal ventilation systems at their homes as much as possible.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said that unlike some other countries, the United States was not recommending that American citizens leave Tokyo over radiation concerns.
Damage total spikes
Lost homes, sunken boats and damaged piers caused tsunami damage estimates to jump into the tens of millions of dollars in Hawaii and California.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said, "It's in the millions in terms of property, but it's very small in terms of personal injury and deaths. Of course, we're very, very fortunate."
Additional losses may pile up because thousands of Japanese tourists have canceled vacations to Hawaii since the tsunami, dealing a blow to the state's tourism-dependent economy.
In California, Mike Dayton, acting secretary of the Emergency Management Agency, estimated that statewide damage from last week's surge exceeds $40 million.