Nearly 24 hours after the accident, around midnight on April 27, buses began to arrive to prepare for the evacuation of the residents of Pripyat.
At this point, government officials at the site were under the impression they could still contain it. Helicopters dropped tons of neutrino-absorbing materials, but none reached the core.
Although there was a brief dip in radiation levels, they spiked again around mid-afternoon, and residents had no choice but to evacuate. Because of the immediate threat posed by the disaster, residents were given just a couple of hours to gather their things, and advised only to bring with them the bare essentials.
The official announcement declared that townspeople were leaving their residences "temporarily," which may explain why so many left so much behind. Those that attempted to return, however, were greeted by military or police personnel and quickly learned that Pripyat was lost.
More than 300,000 people in total in an 18-mile radius around Chernobyl were forced out of their homes.
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