BEIJING (Reuters) - The Internet had one overwhelming message for the world from Japan on Tuesday -- we’re terrified of a nuclear meltdown and desperate to get out.
News that low levels of radioactivity were drifting toward Tokyo triggered major panic among many users of popular social media websites, even as the Japanese government called for calm and said radioactivity was nowhere near danger levels.
“PLEASE pack up your family, important papers, family mementos, and get out of there,” wrote one user on Twitter.
“Go south, to Taiwan, or if you can, Australia. If you cannot afford to leave Japan, at least go as far southwest in your country as you can. Put as much distance between the affected area and your temporary relocation area, as possible.”
Tokyo has been gripped by a panic buying spree, with some shops swept clean of flashlights, radios, candles and sleeping bags amid the world’s most worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.
“I have ... 3 boxes of water, and a full tank of gas. I filled a bathtub with water so I could still flush the toilet, bathe, etc. if the water gets cut off,” wrote another Twitter user.
“The situation at the nuclear plants in Fukushima is getting worse and worse, and I am getting very afraid of it. Now, I am going out for grocery shopping with my sick child in search for more water and other supplies,” wrote Junko Yabe on Facebook.
Other locals and expatriates were leaving the country, with the number of stranded passengers at Tokyo’s main international airport at Narita rising. Multinational companies have said they were considering plans to move outside of Tokyo.
“Luckily I have been able to get a seat on a flight to Okinawa today. I am catching the 2000 flight from Haneda (Tokyo),” wrote a user on mixi, a Japanese social networking website. “Those still around, be careful not to get rained on.”
News that power plant operator TEPCO has pulled hundreds of its workers from the power plant stoked fears.
“The specialists in the nuclear sites are getting less and less -- who will be left to work on them ? Leave Tokio and go south for now -- at least and take the OLD People with you!” added Angie Badelt on Facebook.
One popular message repeated across social media websites read: “Pray for us.”
“INFORMATION IS HIDDEN”
Many people have criticized the government’s handling of the crisis, saying it has failed to provide enough information on the incident.
Much of the social media traffic focused on cross-checking information on websites, email and other outlets, with people exchanging information on shower and food locations, underscoring many people’s distrust of the government.
“Don’t believe government reassurances radiation levels are safe -- get out of Japan now,” said one Twitter user.
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblog site, many users reposted a map showing how nuclear contamination could possibly spread over much of China’s east coast, triggering debates about whether it was genuine.
The Chinese government said it has detected no abnormal radiation anywhere in China, though it has stepped up monitoring.
“2012 has come early, and humanity has brought it upon themselves!” wrote Weibo user called ‘Coffee or Garlic’, referring to a prophecy about an impending Armageddon in 2012, which was made into a film in 2009 depicting the end of the world triggered by global earthquakes and tsunamis.
Others were more sanguine.
“Have to run if the nuclear plant blows up but don’t have anywhere to flee to and no gas,” said Naru0428taka, who identified herself as a first-year student at the junior college in Fukushima. “So just have to accept it.”
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing, Kazunori Takada in Shanghai and Jonathan Standing in Hong Kong; Editing by Daniel Magnowski