Eruption chances downgraded

Experts say Mount Usu shows some signs of stabilizing


Volcano experts monitoring Mount Usu in southwestern Hokkaido revised their official outlook Wednesday on the possibility of a violent eruption, after magma movements became localized and the chance of an imminent eruption appeared to have dwindled.

The Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruption met in Date, a city near the volcano. The committee is aiming to review its official outlook issued April 5 when it warned that a large-scale eruption could occur at the mountain anytime “from two to three days and within one or two weeks.”

The committee is an advisory body to the Meteorological Agency.

It was the first time the committee has gathered all its members in the vicinity of an active volcano. Among the meeting’s participants are committee chairman Yoshiaki Ida and officials of the Meteorological Agency.

The meeting came a day after Hiromu Okada, the head of the committee’s section at Mount Usu, said: “We have clearly seen that the magma movement has been localized to the northwestern foot of the mountain.”

Okada, a Hokkaido University professor, added that crustal changes at other areas of the 732-meter volcano have almost stopped while crustal movements in the previously active northwestern base area have stabilized.

Okada and fellow scientists analyzed the data they collected and decided that the swelling observed on the mountain before its March 31 eruption has now settled.

They said crustal movements were concentrated around groups of craters spreading over Mount Nishi and Mount Kompira — both part of the Mount Usu system.

In that area, the surface of the volcano has risen about seven meters over five days, Okada said.

A total of 13,000 residents from Date, Sobetsu and Abuta — the three communities closest to Mount Usu — have been evacuated from their homes. Among the evacuees, about 5,000 are staying at schools and community centers.

The reports of settled volcanic activity prompted authorities to allow more residents to temporarily return to their homes.

On Wednesday, 2,321 residents of a district in Date were given permission to spend five hours to check their homes.

The residents were being transported by a fleet of 40 buses because authorities banned the use of private cars due to the growing number of residents taking part in the home visits.

Residents in the town of Abuta, however, had their visits canceled Wednesday morning because cloudy weather grounded helicopters that were to observe whether it was safe to temporarily lift the evacuation order.

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

The volcano previously erupted Aug. 7, 1977. It remained active for the following 15 months.

School’s late opening

TOYOURA, Hokkaido (Kyodo) An elementary school in Abuta, the majority of whose residents evacuated, held a late opening ceremony for the new school year Wednesday.

At Hanawa Elementary School, all 25 students, including three new first-graders, congregated in a classroom instead of its gymnasium, which was being used as a shelter for evacuees.

Eleven students from other schools, among those taking shelter at the school, also attended the ceremony.

While returning students seemed happy to reunite with friends, the new first-graders appeared nervous throughout the ceremony.

“I want to study arithmetic,” said Hiroki Ando, 6, who evacuated from another area in the same town. “I am not lonely at all.”

Hiroki’s father, Takuro, 37, said: “Whatever the venue, it is nice to be able to hold an entrance ceremony. I hope my son plays more vigorously than the eruptions of the volcano.”