May 2015 – JAPAN – A volcano exploded into life Friday morning on lightly populated Kuchinoerabu Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, sending smoke and ash soaring into the sky. Authorities ordered residents and visitors to evacuate. The 9:59 a.m. “explosive” eruption of the 650-meter Mount Shindake, the main peak on the island, resulted in a plume over 9 km high and a pyroclastic flow which reached the coast, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. All 137 islanders were confirmed safe, including a 72-year-old man who received a burn to his forehead but was able to walk unaided, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency and local authorities said. Residents and visitors on Kuchinoerabu were expected to be evacuated by ferry and coast guard vessel to the nearby island of Yakushima by Friday evening, Yakushima town office said. The island 100 km south of Kyushu is usually reachable only by two ferry routes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, “I have instructed the relevant personnel to do all they can to ensure the safety of islanders.”
A weather agency official told a news conference that there is a risk of a second eruption and associated pyroclastic flows. So far, he said, the pyroclastic flows had not struck the populated Maeda district. Located about 100 km south of the southern tip of Kyushu, Kuchinoerabu has only about 100 full-time residents. Some of those believed to have been present at the time were short-term visitors. The prefectural government said 141 people in all, from 78 families, were required to evacuate. The evacuation warning came after the weather agency upgraded its alert for the island to the highest level of 5, up from the previous level of 3, which imposed limits on climbing the volcano. The prime minister’s office in Tokyo set up a response team at its crisis management center, and the Japan Coast Guard dispatched a large patrol ship to the area. Kuchinoerabu has repeatedly witnessed eruptions and earthquakes, some of them deadly. Mount Shindake erupted in 1841, destroying villages and claiming many lives, while a series of eruptions from late 1933 to early 1934 left eight people dead and 26 injured.
Until Friday, the volcano’s most recent eruption had been on Aug. 3 last year. That eruption prompted 87 people, including some individuals visiting on business, to leave the island the following day. Experts had recorded unusual activity for about a decade leading up to last year’s eruption, and the latest blast could be a relatively large, prolonged one, said Associate Professor Ryusuke Imura of Kagoshima University. Meanwhile, the eruption on Sept. 27 last year of Mount Ontake in central Japan was the nation’s worst postwar volcanic disaster, claiming the lives of hikers near the summit. Fifty-seven people were confirmed dead, but six individuals remain missing, presumed buried under ash and rock.
The hot-spring district of Mount Hakone near Tokyo has seen its ground level rise by up to 15 cm in two weeks this month, as sulfurous steam gushes from vents in the mountain’s flank. Kagoshima Prefecture’s Mount Sakurajima erupted explosively in August 2013, unleashing a plume that reached an altitude of 5 km. The same mountain had 178 small eruptions in March alone and last week one resulted in a plume 4.3 km high.60: Japan’s Mount Shindake volcano erupts on Kuchinoerabu Island. –Japan Times
contribution Lisa M.