SAKURAJIMA VOLCANO AND MAJOR ERUPTIONS IN SOUTHERN KYUSHU

KYUSHU VOLCANOES

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1991 eruption at Sakurajima
Kyushu has 30 active and inactive volcanoes. They are part of a the island’s landscape and for the most part can be enjoyed hiking trails. Many of them have smoking fumaroles (openings in the ground from which steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide are emitted). Other have smoking craters. The craters of some, such as Mt. Aso, can be approached closely except when a warning has been issued. Other, like Sakurajima and Unzen, you are required to stay at a safe distance of at least a half a kilometer or more from the crater.

Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire” – a horseshoe-shaped band of fault lines and volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific ocean. It is home to more than 100 active volcanoes. The active volcanoes on Kyushu or in the sea or islands around it are: Aso, Fukue-jima, Futago, Hane-yama, Hime-shima Volcanic Group, Hohi, Hokusatsu, Ibusuku, Iki Volcanic Group, Imuta, Kakuto, Kinpo, Kirishima, Kuju, Kurose, Ojikajima, Sakurajima, Satsuma Maru-yama, Sendai, Sone, Sumiyoshi-ike, Taradake, Tsurumi, Unzen, Yabakei [Source: volcanodiscovery.com]

According to volcanodiscovery.com: Mt Aso volcano is one of the world's most active volcanoes. In recent years, it has been the site of frequent ash eruptions. Sakurajima (also spelled Sakurashima or Sakura-jima) is another one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and one of the few that are at present in constant (persistant) activity. Kirishima, one of Japan's most active volcanic areas, is comprised of 18 young, small stratovolcanoes north of Kagoshima Bay: Takachihonomine, Nakadake, Ohatayama, Karakunidake, Tairoike, Ohachi, and Shinmoedake are the principal vents. Unzen, about 40 kilometers east of Nagasaki city, is one of Japan's most active and dangerous volcanoes.

“Ibusuki volcano is a group of calderas, central cones and maars at the southern tip of Kyushu Island, Japan. Although the last eruption dates back to the 9th century, it is an active volcano. It contains the 4.5-km-wide Ikeda-ko caldera, which formed about 4600 years ago, Fukue-jima volcano is a group of basaltic shield volcanoes and cinder cones on Fukue island off the western coast of Kyushu, Japan. The volcanoes are 900,000 years old and last erupted about 2-3000 years ago. They are considered to be active.

Tsurumi volcano is a group of lava domes near the hot spring resort city of Beppu, Honshu Island, Japan. The main features are 2 large domes called Tsurumi (1374 m) and Yufu (1584 m) on the east and west end of the complex. The last eruption, a single eruption from Tsurumi, was in 867

SAKURAJIMA

Sakurajima (across Kagoshima Bay and Kinko-wan Bay from Kagoshima) is regarded as one of the world’s most active volcanoes. It belches out dangerous gases and produces ash showers on a regular basis that cover Kagoshima in a snowfall-like blanket of gray. Sakurajima has been producing steam and ash almost continuously since 1955.

Sakurajima consist of three peaks: 1,117-meter-high Kita-dake, 1,060-meter-high Naka-dake, and 1,040-meter-high Minami-dake. Minami-dake contains the crater where most of the volcano’s activity takes place. On the slopes of the volcano are deep layers of lava and ash. In some places there is incredibly fertile soil that produces white radishes that weigh 24 kilograms (80 pounds).

Sakurajima, which means “cherry blossom island”, is the name of the island and volcano. It faces Kagoshima, a city of over 600,000, across Kagoshima Bay. When the volcano erupts, people say the ash feels like a slight tingling on your skin or being bombarded by tiny insects. If you stay outside long enough your lower arms become covered in grey powder with consistency of finely ground pepper. Often the powdery precipitation stops after a few minutes, but if it doesn’t and the rain comes, it’s can be like printing ink dripping from the sky. [Source: JNTO]

Mt. Sakurajima lies to the south of the Aira caldera. On the southern side of the volcano lies the Ata caldera. The topography of Mt. Sakurajima continues to change tremendously due to the volcano's many eruptions, such as the large-scale eruption 100 years ago (in 1914) in which larva created a land bridge between the island and the Osumi Peninsula. The volcano is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from a nuclear reactor that was switched on in August 2015 after it had been turned off because of the Fukushima crisis that followed the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Visiting Sakurajima

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It is not possible to hike to the top of Sakurajima but is it possible to bicycle around it on a road that follows the coast around the entire peninsula. Stops along the way, include small towns, rock beaches, lavas flows, and hot springs.

At Shioyagamoto port the sea is a bright turquoise color because of the effect of microbes feeding on nutrients released by the hot springs. Bicycles can be rented at a shop near the ferry terminal. The bicycles are not in very good shape so be prepared for that.

One stretch of the road traverses a A monstrous lava flow produced by the 1914 eruption that buried Torishima Island. The Kurokami Buried Torii is a remnant from before 1914. At Arimura Lava Formation Observatory you can wander around on wooden walkways that winds through lava flows. The Yunochira Observatory is at the top of a steep road, about a third of the way up the western slope of the volcano. Although it not possible to climb around the top of Sakurajima you can hike on the lower slopes on hiking trails that lead to lookouts with good views such as Yunoshira Observatory.

Sakurajima Visitor Center has displays in geology, volcanic eruption and natural history and offers easy-to-understand displays, overviews, and a variety of information about the nature of Sakurajima Volcano and its history of eruptions. It features an eruption experience section, a video section, and more, letting visitors experience the still-active Sakurajima Volcano through computers and hi-vision imagery. Location: Sakurajima Yokoyama Town 1722-29, Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture, Tel: 099-293-2443 Hours Open: 9:00am- 17:00, Closed Open daily throughout the year; Website: sakurajima.gr.jp

Websites: Kagoshima Tourism site kagoshima-kankou.com Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Sakurajima: National catalogue of the active volcanoes in Japan - Japan Meteorological Agency PDF data.jma.go.jp/svd Sakurajima Volcano Research Center svo.dpri.kyoto-u.ac.jp Getting There: Kagoshima is accessible by ferries from Kagoshima that run several times an hour. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Sakurajima Activity

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p><A record high 996 eruptions was recorded at Sakurajima in 2011, the highest number since record keeping began in 1955, the local meteorological observatory said.. Sakurajima recorded 548 eruptions in 2009 and a record 896 in 2010. In January 2010 there were more than 100 eruptions with some of them sending lava flowing down its sides, shooting ash skyward, and producing purple lightning bolts. Most of the eruptions have been in the 800-meter-high Showa vent not the larger 1,000-meter-high Minamidake vent.

Kyodo reported: “At the 800-meter Showa crater, which erupted in June 2006 for the first time in 58 years, 994 eruptions were observed in 2011. Two eruptions were observed at the Minamidake vent, at about 1,000 meters elevation, the Kagoshima Meteorological Observatory said. The observatory warned the volcano in the middle of Kagoshima Prefecture is becoming increasingly active. But eruptions at the Showa crater are relatively small and no signs of imminent large eruptions have been observed, it added. Sakurajima erupted 548 times in 2009 and 896 times in 2010, breaking the previous record of 474 times in 1985 for three consecutive years through 2011. The Japan Meteorological Agency defines an explosive eruption as one accompanied by an explosive release of gas, ash or rock. [Source: Kyodo, January 3, 2012]

Ichiro Ohara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “After I set up my camera about four kilometers from one of Sakurajima’s craters, a huge pillar of fire suddenly erupted in the dark night sending lava spewing down the mountain and turning the surface a glowing red. This kind of explosive eruption was observed 450 times last year on Sakurajima island in Kagoshima. As of Feb. 15 this year, eruptions already have been observed 127 times. Toshihide Fukamichi, 73, former head of the town association of the Mochiki district in Kagoshima, is worried that residents are becoming less cautious, saying, “Eruptions have become a normal occurrence, so people tend to shrug them off as there is no element of surprise.”[Source: Ichiro Ohara, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 27, 2015]

“According to the Kagoshima-based Sakurajima Volcano Research Center of Kyoto University’s Disaster Prevention Research Institute, the mountain has been swelling due to an increase in magma and other reasons. Below ground on the island’s northern side, the center confirmed the existence of a large magma reservoir, equivalent to the amount of magma that caused the 1914 Taisho eruption in which 58 people died or went missing.

Sakurajima Eruption Preparedness

In the Kagoshima area there are daily eruption reports along with the weather on television so residentscan gage the impact of wind direction and other factors on ash falls. Fruit hanging from the trees is wrapped in white paper to protect it, graves in cemeteries have their own roofs, and people carry umbrellas despite the sunshine, all in case it suddenly starts raining ash. People who live in the most dangerous areas keep an emergency pack at the entrance of their houses, with food and extra clothes for a week, in case they have to evacuate with little warning.

In August 2015, Japan’s weather agency told thousands of residents near Kagoshima to prepare for a possible evacuation after officials raised their alert to its second-highest level after picking up increasing seismic activity around the volcano Sakurajima “The possibility for a large-scale eruption has become extremely high for Sakurajima,” the agency said, warning residents to exercise “strict caution” and prepare for a possible evacuation. The warning applies to a part of the island, which is home to more than 4,000 people. [Source: Agence France-Presse, August 15, 2015]

Many of the residents in the most dangerous areas near the volcano are elderly. Ichiro Ohara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “ Fukamichi has created a map showing at a glance the locations of houses of people who have difficulty moving around by themselves and people aged 65 or older who live alone. If the worst happens, these people are supposed to be taken to an evacuation center by vehicles owned by a construction company in the neighborhood. [Source: Ichiro Ohara, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 27, 2015]

“Shimo Iwashita, 84, who lives alone in the Sakurajima Saido district in the northern area of the island, has prepared a helmet and an emergency bag packed with such items as extra clothes, flashlight and emergency food at the entrance of her house. Preparing an emergency pack is her custom after she moved to Sakurajima, her husband’s hometown, 32 years ago. She checks the bag’s contents at least once a month. “I think Sakurajima is a good place with rich nature, but I feel scared even now,” said Iwashita, looking up as smoke rose from the volcano. “Masato Iguchi, 56, head of the center, warns people, saying, “It’s important not to forget to make appropriate preparations on the assumption that a large-scale eruption could occur at any time.”

Major Sakurajima Eruptions

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eruption in 2000
There were major eruptions at Sakurajima in 1914, 1915, 1946, 1955 and 1960. Often the eruption are hard to predict. Alerts for a an eruption in August 2008 were not issued until eruptions and pyroclastic flows were observed.

The first record of a Sakurajima eruption was in A.D. 708. The Sakurajima eruption in 1914 was the largest ever in Japan in historical times. That one came as no surprise. The ground around the volcano rumbled for days. In Kagoshima 417 earthquakes were recorded in the 30 hours before the mountain exploded. The eruptions produced 3 billion tons of lava, with lava covering many villages and transforming Sakurajima from an island into a peninsula by filling in a 400-meter-wide, 70-meter-deep strait.

In 1987 Sakurajima spewed out molten rock and gases more than 100 times. "It's like a soda bottle with its cap off instead of on," a geologist told Discover magazine. "A small amount of lava is released pretty constantly, rather than a large amount all at once, as at Mt. St Helens." Sakurajima erupts so often that hard hats are mandatory for Japanese students visiting the foot of volcano. Annual volcano drills prepare residents for a disaster.

On October 7, 2000, Sakurajma erupted from the Minami-dake peak, sending ash more than five kilometers into the sky. The same volcano had 178 small eruptions in March 2015 alone, most from the Shoawa crater, and produced one in May 2015 that created a plume 4.3-kilometers high. [Source: Kyodo, Japan Times, May 29, 2015]

1914 Taisho Eruption of Sakurajima

The 1914 Taisho eruption of Sakurijima volcano was Japan’s highest intensity and magnitude eruption of the twentieth century. According to the abstract of a paper on the subject. “After a 35-year period of quiescence, the volcano suddenly rewoke a few days before the eruption, when earthquakes began to be felt on Sakurajima Island. The eruption began on January 12, 1914, from two fissures located on opposite sides of the volcano, and was characterized by a complex time evolution and changes in eruptive styles. The eruption began with a subPlinian explosive phase in which two convective columns rose from the two fissures. Both plumes were sustained for at least 2 days. This resulted in deposition of a widely dispersed tephra sequence. After this phase, the eruption evolved to a final, waning phase, shifting toward effusive activity that lasted until April 1914. During the first weeks, effusive activity was also accompanied by ash emission. [Source: “The 1914 Taisho eruption of Sakurajima volcano: stratigraphy and dynamics of the largest explosive event in Japan during the twentieth century”, A. Todde, R. Cioni, M. Pistolesi, N. Geshi & C. Bonadonna , Bulletin of Volcanology volume 79, Article number: 72, September 26, 2017]

“The complex sequence of events, characterized by contemporaneous explosive and effusive activity, is typical of several recently observed mid-intensity eruptions, such as during the 2011 eruption of Cordón Caulle, Chile. The stratigraphic sequence of the eruptive deposits from the Taisho eruption comprises alternating coarse-to-fine lapilli beds with ash beds dispersed toward the ESE and SE. These deposits can be subdivided into three lapilli-bearing units (Units T1, T2 and T3, which correspond to the subPlinian phase) and one ash-bearing unit (Unit T4, which corresponds to the final ash venting, accompanying the first day/weeks of lava flow activity). Grain size analyses from each unit reveal a marked polymodal distribution generally described by the sum of two or three Gaussian subpopulations. Both the modes and the relative amounts of the coarse subpopulations vary with distance from vent, with those of the fine subpopulation remaining nearly constant.

“Within the vertical sequence, component analysis shows a progressive increase in lithic fragments, suggesting that conduit enlargement continued until the final stages of the eruption. The estimated volume of the tephra deposit of the subPlinian phase of the eruption is 0.33 ± 0.11 km3 (dense rock equivalent (DRE) volume = 0.09 ± 0.03 km3). The height of the eruption column was also assessed by using four different isopleth maps compiled based on different strategies for the characterization of the largest clasts. The maximum height attained by the eruption column is estimated at 15.0 ± 1.2 km above the vent, resulting in a maximum mass discharge rate of 3.6 ± 1.2 × 107 kg s−1 (calculated taking into account the strong effect of wind advection). Finally, different classification schemes were applied to classify the eruption, which generally straddles the fields between Plinian and subPlinian.”

Sakurajima Eruption in August 2013

The last major explosive eruption of Sakurajima was in August 2013 when seent a plume of gas, smoke and ash five kilometers into the sky, it spewed ash as far as Kagoshima and sent rocks flying into populated areas, causing damage but no major injuries. The same mountain had 178 small eruptions in March 2015 alone and produced one in May 2015 that created a plume 4.3-kilometers high. [Source: Kyodo, Japan Times, May 29, 2015]

The Japan News reported: “Kagoshima residents were busy cleaning up volcanic ash on Monday, a day after Mt. Sakurajima spewed ash as high as 5,000 meters to blanket the city of 600,000 people. According to the Kagoshima Local Meteorological Observatory, the explosive eruption from the Showa vent occurred at 4:31 p.m. Ash reached a height of 5,000 meters, the highest recorded from the Showa vent since the observatory started monitoring the active volcano in 1955. [Source: Japan News/Asia News Network, August 20, 2013]

“Volcanic rocks measuring 50 centimeters in diameter were observed at the Third Station of the mountain, or 1,300 to 1,800 meters from the Showa vent, the observatory said. It also confirmed a small pyroclastic flow about one kilometer long. The observatory predicts no further major eruptions from the volcano for the time being. The city of Kagoshima, meanwhile, mobilized about 60 ash-cleaning and water-spraying vehicles from early Monday morning. The observatory reported about 120 grams of volcanic ash falling per square meter of ground from January to July this year. On Sunday alone, however, it recorded 13 grams of ash. Ash fell over a wide area in this eruption," said a Kagoshima city official. "We'll attempt to clean it up in three days."

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Sakurajima

Shinmoedake Eruptions in 2011

On January 26, 2011, 1,421-meter-high Shinmoedake, a volcano on the border of Miyazaki and Kagoshima in Kyushu, began erupting for the first time in 52 years. It shot smoke as high as 3,000 meters into the sky and scattered ash over a fairly large area. No one was hurt but tons of ash smothered downwind towns. It even killed coral about 65 kilometers away from the volcano. The last extended period of activity at the volcano was in the Edo Period when the mountain erupted violently in 1716 and 1717.

Shinmoedake erupted about a dozen times over the course of a month in 2011. Some of the eruptions were caused when the lava dome that formed at the crater became plugged or collapsed. One major eruption---the forth one---produced shock waves and air vibrations more than 300 kilometers away that rattled windows throughout Kyushu and in Kochi and Ehime prefectures in Shikoku. Ash covered more than 7,000 hectares of farmland downwind in Miyaknojo and Nichinan in Miyazaki Prefecture, making things difficult for farmers who could salvage crops only after washing them thoroughly. Volcanic rocks about five centimeters in diameter broke windows in buildings and cars in Miyakanojo.

An eruption on February 1st sent a boulder about 70 centimeters by 50 centimeters flying into the air. It landed three kilometers away in a cedar forest where it made a crater about six meters in diameter and 2.5 meters deep. An off-limits zone covering four square kilometers was set up. No pyroclastic flows were observed on that day.

People who lived in places that received large amounts of ash were kept busy shoveling the ash and putting it in plastic bags that were picked up garbage trucks. Some houses were covered in so much ash that people worried their roofs might collapse. Some train services were halted. A few car accidents were caused by cars sliding on the ash. The Yomiuri Giants, Seibu Lions and Softbank Hawks professional baseball teams managed to keep their training going despite ash falling on their field. When the ash levels were particularly high the teams trained indoors as they would on a rainy day.

A large number of disaster tourists showed up to witness the spectacle. Some defied bans and entered the off-limits zone set up around the volcano. One man who crossed the barrier told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “We want to take some impressive photos.” Another said, “The volcano doesn’t look very active and doesn’t seem to pose any danger now. I don’t thinks its any problem getting closer.”

Pre-Eruption Activity at Shinmoedake

Describing the pre-eruption activity at Shinmoedake, Kyoichi Sasazawa and Takashi Ito wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Small eruptions caused by phreatic explosions were observed on Shinmoedake from March to May 2010. Phreatic explosions occur when the heat of rising magma causes underground water to boil and steam pressure rises. According to experts, however, the eruptions that took place in 2011 were explosive eruptions characteristic of phreatomagmatic explosions, which are caused when magma and underground water directly interact. [Source: Kyoichi Sasazawa and Takashi Ito, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 30, 2011]

“The Geospational Information Authority of Japan, which has been observing Shinmoedake's crustal movement via the Global Positioning System, said the volcano body began swelling, which indicates an accumulation of magma, in December 2009. During a nine-month period from May 2010, about 6 million cubic meters of magma accumulated in a reservoir about six kilometers underground and about 10 kilometers west-northwest of the Shinmoedake crater. During the same period, about 1 million cubic meters of magma accumulated in a chamber about three kilometers underground just beneath the crater.”

Two weeks after the first eruption “distances between observation points have already changed from expanding to shrinking. Originally 23 kilometers, the distance between two particular points in the Kirishima mountain system expanded by four centimeters during the approximately one year from December 2009 to just before the eruptions. However, the same distance shrank by one centimeter in three days after the eruptions.

Geology and Eruption History of Shinmoedake

Kyoichi Sasazawa and Takashi Ito wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The magma at Shinmoedake is relatively viscid, according to the experts, as it contains a large amount of silica, a main ingredient of volcanic ash. When the volcano erupts, a great amount of ash is also ejected. Traces of small pyroclastic flows going down 500 to 600 meters have also been observed on the southwestern side of the volcano. [Source: Kyoichi Sasazawa and Takashi Ito, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 30, 2011]

A lava dome about 50 meters in diameter was confirmed in the crater during observations from the air by the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute. The dome formed as magma rose to the crater and stopped there. "It's already reached the 'magma-eruption' stage, in which magma directly erupts from the volcano," Associate Prof. Ryusuke Imura of Kagoshima University, an expert on volcanic topography, told the Yomiuri Shimbun. He has been conducting on-site research near the volcano. [Ibid]

“The recent eruptions on Shinmoedake peak closely resemble highly destructive blasts that occurred there nearly 300 years ago,” Sasazawa and Ito wrote. “One of more than 20 volcanic peaks in the Kirishima mountain range on the Kagoshima-Miyazaki prefectural border, Shinmoedake is believed to have formed between 7,300 and 25,000 years ago. Most of the recorded eruptions on the Kirishima range have occurred at Shinmoedake and Ohachi peaks.” [Ibid]

“Large eruptions took place at Shinmoedake in 1716 and 1717, during the Kyoho era of the Edo period (1603-1867). Analysis of the volcanic material deposited in the soil by the different eruptions has found that they changed from phreatic to phreatomagmatic explosions and then to magmatic eruptions. According to Imura, the Edo eruptions were 10 times bigger than the current ones, and also involved pyroclastic and mud flows. Although there was no lava flow, intermittent eruptions continued for about 18 months, resulting in the deaths of six people, Imura said.” [Ibid]

“Ash from the eruptions traveled as far as Hachijojima island in Tokyo's Izu Island chain, about 850 kilometers from Shinmoedake. According to analysis by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology on pumice stones from the eruptions through Thursday, the magma is very similar to that ejected in the 1716-17 eruptions. "The eruption process is quite similar to the major eruptions of the Kyoho era, so more violent eruptions could take place," Imura said.” [Ibid]

Shindake Volcano on Kuchinoerabu

Kuchinoerabu (south of Kyushu) is an island that is home to Shindake Volcano, It is located in area with a large concentration of active volcanoes. Shindake has experienced numerous bouts of volcanic activity since its colossal eruption in 1841, which burned nearby villages and killed many residents. [Source: Kyodo, Japan Times, May 29, 2015]

Kyodo reported: “According to the Meteorological Agency, in 1931 Shindake exploded on its western margin, causing landslides that killed two residents, animals and damaged farms and fields. Several eruptions between December 1933 and January 1934 burned down a whole village. Eight people were killed and 26 were injured.

“Shindake’s volcanic activities continued in the 1960s, resulting in another massive eruption in November 1966 that hurt three people and caused shock waves and pyroclastic flows that hit Kagoshima and Tanegashima Island, one of the Osumi Islands. The mountain also experienced a small phreatic eruption in September 1980. Since the 2000s, a large increase in volcanic quakes and tremors has been reported. An expansion at its crater and white fumes were detected in 2008, but one of its most recent eruptions, on Aug. 3, 2014, sent fumes higher than 800 meters..

Shindake Eruption in May 2016 Forces Evacuation of Entire Island

In May 2016, a remote island south of Kyushu was evacuated due to an eruption. Kyodo reported: “A volcano explodedin the morning on sparsely populated Kuchinoerabu Island, sending smoke and ash soaring into the sky above Kagoshima Prefecture and residents fleeing to the safety of nearby Yakushima Island. The 9:59 a.m. eruption of 626-meter Mount Shindake, the island’s main peak, produced a plume over nine kilometers high and a pyroclastic flow that reached the shoreline, the Meteorological Agency said. While no lava streams had been spotted, a weather agency official warned of the risk of a second eruption and more pyroclastic flows, noting that none had reached the more populous Maeda district.[Source: Kyodo, Japan Times, May 29, 2015]

“There was no warning. “I heard a loud boom and when I looked at the mountains, I saw a gigantic plume rising above,” said a 64-year-old innkeeper who was in her garden at the time. “I thought I’d be dead if I got caught in the cloud,” she said explaining why she ran to the shelter without any belongings. “There was an eruption last year, but this time the sound was really loud.”

“All 137 of Kuchinoerabu’s residents were confirmed safe, including a 72-year-old man who received a forehead burn but was able to walk unaided, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency and local authorities said. All had been evacuated by ferry, coast guard ship and helicopter to neighboring Yakushima Island by Friday evening, the Yakushima town office said. Both islands are about 100 km south of Kyushu, but Yakushima is usually reachable only by two ferry routes. Kuchinoerabu has only about 100 full-time residents. Some believed to have been present at the time were short-term visitors. The prefectural government said 141 people in all, from 78 families, were ordered to evacuate.

“The evacuation started after the weather agency raised its alert for the island to 5 — the highest level — from 3, which imposed limits on climbing the volcano. The eruption, which unleashed a large ash cloud, created a panic as residents fled with only the barest necessities. Yukina Masuda who managed to evacuate to a shelter near the top of another peak, Banyagamine, said the eruption was much bigger than last year’s. “It looks like all of the island’s residents are crammed into this shelter,” she said.

“The volcano’s most recent eruption before the May 2015 eruption was in August 2014. “That eruption prompted 87 people, including some individuals visiting on business, to leave the following day. Experts had recorded unusual activity for about a decade leading up to the 2014 eruption, and the latest blast could be a relatively large, prolonged one, said associate professor Ryusuke Imura of Kagoshima University.

“Nobuo Geshi of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology claims the May 2015 eruption is the same type as the one seen at Sakurajima but much larger. Geshi, who heads a group of scientists conducting research on massive eruptions, said it is very similar to the one the island experienced in 1966. He said it can also be regarded as part of the volcanic activity that continued after the eruption last August. Geshi pointed out that none of the past cases was a one-off eruption, suggesting the activity may continue for a while.”

Image Sources: Volcano Research Center University of Tokyo, USGS

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020


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