Usu-displaced get to visit homes


Hokkaido authorities allowed about 380 evacuees to return to their homes near Mount Usu for seven hours Monday, after volcanologists said a violent eruption seems unlikely for now.

People living in “less dangerous” areas of the city of Date, south of the 732-meter volcano, and of the town of Sobetsu, east of the peak, were allowed to go home from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Authorities said the step is aimed at allowing evacuees to check their homes and pick up items they need.

A team of experts monitoring the volcano issued a statement Sunday that volcanic activity has become stable, adding, “The likelihood of a pyroclastic flow following an explosive eruption is small for the short term.”

A subcommittee of the government’s Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions had warned last week that powerful eruptions involving flows of rocks and lava may occur anytime between the next few days and two weeks on the western side of the mountain.

Meteorological authorities are calling for continued vigilance against mudslides, with heavy rains forecast in the area from late Monday to early today.

On Sunday, a hot flow of mud from one of the craters of the volcano was observed filling up waterways of the Lake Toya hot spring resort area, pouring into the streets and a local elementary school’s playground. The mudflow was not powerful enough to destroy buildings, officials said.

Officials of municipalities in the area said they will continue allowing some evacuees seven-hour daytime stays at home this week.

Evacuees whose houses are located in dangerous areas may also be allowed temporary visits of about an hour, if such a move is deemed safe, the officials said.

Meanwhile, a planned second visit by scallop farmers to their farms in a local bay Monday was called off due to bad weather. The farmers of the regional specialty on Sunday visited their scallop beds in a bay near Date and the nearby town of Abuta for the first time since Usu’s eruption March 31.

cultivators had demanded permission to visit the farms to keep the mollusks alive. The scallops are grown in underwater baskets, and cultivators feared they would fall to the seabed without more floats.

March 31 marked the first eruption of Mount Usu in 22 years. The volcano has since been spewing ash, steam and smoke. There have been no injuries.

Some 13,000 people from the municipalities of Date, Sobetsu and Abuta, which are closest to the volcano, have been evacuated from their homes, according to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government. Of the evacuees, about 5,000 are staying at schools and community centers that have become makeshift shelters.