Mormon church officials say as many as 200 missionaries working in the Sendai and Tokyo regions of Japan are being moved farther away from a nuclear power plant where elevated radiation levels have been detected.
Church Elder Jeffrey R. Holland also said Tuesday that all 638 Mormon missionaries living in Japan, including 342 from the U.S., are safe and accounted for following Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami. Fire and explosions at the nuclear facility caused the Japanese government to order 140,000 people living within 20 miles of the plant to seal themselves indoors to avoid exposure.
"We want to have the missionaries out of harm's way, but it doesn't mean we're any less concerned about anyone else," Holland said. "We don't want local Japanese people worrying about the missionaries if we can worry about them."
Holland said Mormon missionaries of all nationalities in those two areas are being moved to safe locations. "Whatever the government is saying, we're doubling or tripling that distance. It's just a safety measure we wish to take," Holland said.
Church officials say missionaries won't be available to provide aid in those areas until better information about radiation levels becomes available.
Holland said the church has pledged a considerable amount of financial and humanitarian aid, particularly to Red Cross organizations. But the aid won't be distributed until infrastructure and communication channels are in place.
Holland said he knows of no deaths among church members in Japan. About half of the 50 church buildings in the Sendai area were damaged, but none severely, and all but one have been visually inspected.
"Our feeling is of great sympathy and concern, but we are not panicking, we are not fearful," Holland said. "The world and members of the church have been through difficulties before; they're getting quite frequent. We'll do the best we can. But there is great deal of confidence and support."