Usu slide alert stands amid downpours

Hot flows from volcano's craters destroy two bridges in Abuta; near school

Kyodo

A local Meteorological Agency observatory Tuesday morning maintained its call for residents near Mount Usu in southwestern Hokkaido to stay alert for possible mud and rockslides due to heavy rain overnight.

The Muroran Meteorological Observatory lifted its heavy rain warning at 9:20 a.m. Tuesday.

The observatory had warned that 50-80 mm of rain would hit the area from Monday night through Tuesday morning, but only 11.5 mm fell in Toyoura on the northwestern slope of the mountain between 10 p.m. Monday and 7 a.m. Tuesday.

But the observatory still warned of possible slides of mud and rocks as rain continued through Tuesday morning, melting snow on the mountain.

Mount Usu continued emitting smoke from a number of volcanic craters Tuesday, with some plumes reaching heights of around 500 meters.

Scientist said Monday they had confirmed that hot mudflows gushing out of craters near Mount Kompira, which is part of Mount Usu, had reached the town of Abuta, west of the peak, destroying two bridges there.

The mudflows, about 2 to 2.5 meters in height, had also reached the schoolyard of Toyako-onsen Elementary School in the town, they said.

Meanwhile, evacuees from Abuta were allowed to return home for 35 minutes Tuesday while evacuees from the town of Sobetsu and the city of Date were allowed a seven-hour daytime stay at their homes.

Since erupting March 31 for the first time in 23 years, Mount Usu has been spewing ash, steam and smoke.

Some 13,000 people from Date, Sobetsu and Abuta have evacuated their homes, according to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government. Of the evacuees, about 5,000 are staying at schools and community centers.

Researcher subsidies

Eighteen researchers monitoring the volcanic activity of Mount Usu in southwestern Hokkaido will soon be granted a government subsidy to conduct studies on eruptions and measures to prevent disasters at the mountain, the Education Ministry said Tuesday.

The researchers, from eight universities, include Hiromu Okada, a professor at Hokkaido University who heads a team of experts monitoring the 732-meter mountain. They will receive a total of 16 million yen.

The researchers plan to study ways to apply information obtained from monitoring the mountain to draw up measures in an effort to prevent disasters, the officials said.

Mori to visit Date

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will visit to Date, Hokkaido, on Saturday to inspect the situation resulting from Mount Usu’s eruption and to meet with evacuees, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said Tuesday.

Details of Mori’s schedule in the area have yet to be set, Aoki said, adding that the prime minister will leave for Hokkaido after attending a planned cherry blossom party in Tokyo Saturday morning.

“We planned the prime minister’s visit hoping it will help encourage local people who must be feeling uneasy about life as an evacuee,” Aoki said.

New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki and Conservative Party head Chikage Ogi may join the visit.

Meanwhile, Toshihiro Nikai, transport minister and Hokkaido Development Agency chief, said the same day that he will set up a private advisory panel to study the economic impact from the volcano’s eruptions.

Nikai said he will ask Ryuzo Sejima, special adviser to major trading house Itochu Corp., to chair the panel, which is expected to consist about 15 or 16 members.

Nikai said the eruption and evacuation of local residents have affected not only areas around the volcano but also the economy of the whole of Hokkaido, in particular its tourist industry.

“I’m worried that damage could spread to all of Hokkaido,” he said.