Usu evacuation orders scaled back


About 4,700 residents of the three municipalities nearest Mount Usu were allowed to return home Thursday, as evacuation orders were partially lifted in line with a report that no more major eruptions are imminent.

More than 8,000 others from those municipalities are still unable to return home, with many of them having stayed in public shelters for nearly half a month.

Volcano experts monitoring the mountain said Wednesday there is no sign Mount Usu, in southwestern Hokkaido, will erupt from its summit on a large scale.

With the report, the city of Date and the town of Sobetsu allowed residents to return home. The evacuation order, issued March 29, was lifted at 9 a.m., officials said. The order for the town of Abuta was lifted at noon.

The 4,700 locals represent about 36 percent of the 13,000 residents evacuated from the three municipalities.

They comprise 2,696 from Date, 1,992 from Abuta and 61 from Sobetsu, according to the officials.

On Wednesday, the experts said in a report: “We believe that over the short term, steam explosions and benign magma steam explosions will continue at the same level as the current volcanic activities on the northwestern foot of the mountain.

“The current data show such volcanic activities will not develop into a massive eruption from the summit.”

Even if a violent eruption occurs at the top, the experts will be able to predict it by studying changes in smoke patterns or crustal movements, it says.

The report was issued after experts on the Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions and government officials met at the Date municipal office Wednesday evening to discuss the activity of the volcano and its impact on local communities.

The participants, including the committee chairman, University of Tokyo professor Yoshiaki Ida, and Hokkaido University professor Hiromu Okada, reviewed the committee’s outlook dated April 5, which warned that a large-scale eruption could occur at anytime “from two to three days and within one or two weeks.”

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

The 732-meter volcano previously erupted on Aug. 7, 1977, and remained active for the next 15 months.