By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times
The white minivan stole along back roads, careful to avoid police checkpoints. The pair inside wore face masks and white gloves. They were nervous, furtive even.
Their mission: drive up to a home in this deserted town, rush inside and grab what they could.
But strong-arm burglary wasn’t on the minds of the hooded driver and her passenger. Seiko Nikaido and her 73-year-old mother, Eiko, just wanted to get a little piece of their old lives before it was too late.
Evacuated after last month’s earthquake and tsunami devastated the nearbyÂ Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the women were fugitives from their own home.
They knew the situation in their once-bustling hometown of 22,000 was worsening by the day. Hours earlier, nuclear regulatory officials had raised the severity of the crisis to the highest level by international standards, equaling that of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
They also knew that the government was about to extend the radiation hot zone around the nuclear plant from 12 miles to 18 miles and more strictly enforce the new restrictions. Until now, some residents have managed to talk their way back into the evacuation zone; soon, the area probably would be closed even to the police, sealed up like some nuclear tomb.
On Tuesday, the women were desperate to see their home, but fearful.
“I’m afraid of what’s in the air here,” Seiko said. “But I knew we had to come back.”
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