Shortly after the damage to the Fukushima plant became apparent, the government issued an evacuation order for all residents within a 6-mile (10-kilometre) radius of the six reactors, which provide a major source of power for millions of people in Tokyo.
That zone later became 12 miles (20 kilometres), and residents in an added ring of 6 more miles (10 more kilometres) were told to stay indoors. A flood of evacuees soon began streaming into Soma, which is just outside both rings.
"We are now taking in several hundred people from those areas," said Katsuhiro Abe, a Soma city official. "That's on top of about 2,000 of our own people who have no homes."
Abe stressed that - as far as the government's assessment goes - Soma, which is about 25 miles (40 kilometres) away from the nuclear facility, is safe. Radiation levels are below what would be considered an immediate health risk.
Abe said the invisible threat bearing down on the city came as a surprise.
Image: In this photo from a footage of a live camera released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), black smoke billows from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.