'This is worse than the quake'
FAMILIES lay huddled together for warmth under blankets while others clustered around paraffin heaters, although they were quick to extinguish them whenever an aftershock struck -- as they did, often.
This was the alarming and unfamiliar new world inhabited by more than 20,000 people last night, after they had been evacuated from a 12-mile zone around the crippled Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant, for fear that yesterday's explosion had released dangerous nuclear contaminants.
Children lined their shoes up neatly alongside their small portion of blue tarpaulin inside the gymnasium. As the elderly slept, younger Japanese spoke in hushed tones.
And everyone shared the anger that, having survived the quake and the tsunamis that followed it, they were now at risk from a hazard that was entirely man-made.
"The first we knew of the explosion was when town officials came to our house this afternoon and told us we had to leave," said Junko Ishida, 36, as she cradled her infant son Toa.
"First of all, we had to deal with the earthquake and the aftershocks and now this.
"We have no idea how long we are going to have to stay here and no one has told us what is going on."
Yukio Fukaya, a 50-year-old security guard, had arrived at the gym with his elderly mother, Yoshiko, and several of his neighbours.
"We want to go home, but we are scared," he said. "The earthquake was terrifying, but this is worse."
Atsushi Nishyama, of the Iwaki city government, said: "We're only 35km from the plant here and people are very worried." As he spoke, another aftershock rattled the building, sending some families scurrying into the corridors.