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Stetson students trying to return home from Japan

Residents, in an attempt to resume some sense of normalcy, line up to catch trains today at Yokohama station near Tokyo. 

Associated Press

Residents, in an attempt to resume some sense of normalcy, line up to catch trains today at Yokohama station near Tokyo. 

A group of business students from a Central Florida university are among people trying to leave Japan in the wake of the devastating earthquake on Friday.

Stetson University professors Rebecca and Gary Oliphant led the weeklong study-abroad trip that was supposed to end Friday, the day an 8.9-magnitude earthquake wrecked havoc and spawned a deadly tsunami.

Business school dean Stuart Michelson says the 13 students and the professors were meeting with executives at Tokyo Disney Resort when a chandelier started swinging back and forth. The 45-minute drive to the resort became a 10-hour slog back amid seemingly endless traffic.

The group spent the night at the airport and were trying to find a way back home Sunday.

U.S. carrier exposed

The Pentagon was expected to announce that the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which is sailing in the Pacific, passed through a radioactive cloud from stricken nuclear reactors in Japan, causing crew members on deck to receive a month's worth of radiation in about an hour, government officials said Sunday.

The officials added that American helicopters flying about 60 miles north of the damaged reactors became coated with particulate radiation that had to be washed off. There was no indication that any of the military personnel experienced ill effects from the exposure.

No threat to U.S. seen

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says harmful levels of radioactivity are not expected in the United States due to damaged nuclear reactors in Japan.

In a statement Sunday, the NRC said weather conditions appear to have taken the releases of radioactivity from the damaged reactors out to sea.

With thousands of miles separating Japan and the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, U.S. territories and the U.S. West Coast, the NRC doesn't expect any harmful levels of radioactivity.

The NRC is coordinating with the Energy Department and other federal agencies in providing any assistance the Japanese government requests during the crisis.

Seawalls fall short

At least 40 percent of Japan's 22,000-mile coastline is lined with concrete seawalls, breakwaters or other structures meant to protect the country against high waves, typhoons or even tsunamis. They are as much a part of Japan's coastal scenery as beaches or fishing boats.

While experts have praised Japan's rigorous building codes and quake-resistant buildings for limiting the number of casualties from Friday's earthquake, the devastation in coastal areas could push Japan to redesign its seawalls — or reconsider its heavy reliance on them altogether.

The tsunami that followed the quake washed over walls that were supposed to protect nuclear the plants, disabling the diesel generators crucial to maintaining power for the reactors' cooling systems during shutdown.

Warning against travel

The U.S. State Department is advising Americans to avoid traveling to Japan at this time.

In a travel alert issued Sunday, the State Department urged all nonessential U.S. government personnel to defer travel to Japan. It also says Americans should avoid tourism and other unnecessary visits to Japan for now.

Updated information on travel and security in Japan can be obtained from the State Department by calling toll-free 1-888-407-4747 in the United States and Canada. For callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line is 1-202-501-4444.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

Stetson students trying to return home from Japan 03/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 14, 2011 12:23am]
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