Mori to consider help for areas affected by Usu

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said Saturday that the government will positively consider designating areas affected by the eruption of Mount Usu a disaster-hit region in the near future so that local residents are eligible to receive government assistance.

Mori made the remarks to reporters while visiting this southern Hokkaido city with his two coalition partners — Takenori Kanzaki, head of New Komeito, and Chikage Ogi, head of the New Conservative Party. They visited an evacuation shelter here to meet residents after being briefed about the current situation by local officials.

Experts monitoring the rumbling volcano on Saturday urged local residents to remain on the alert for a major eruption.

“People should not rule out the possibility of a large-scale eruption,” said Hiromu Okada, a professor at Hokkaido University and head a committee of experts monitoring Mount Usu.

Okada, who heads the Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions, said the present subsidence in volcanic activity is only an interval before a new type of eruption.

Referring to a large body of underground water that has been restraining violent magma activity, Okada said, “The power balance between the magma and water will be lost in the near future. Our focus is on whether the explosive capability of the underground magma will increase.”

Tadahide Ui, another Hokkaido University professor, said, “I have noticed that many people seem to think that the most active phase of eruption has come and gone, but that is far from the reality.”

Hokkaido Railway Co. on Saturday began replacing rails between Toya and Nagawa stations bent by movements in the ground.

The company also restarted some train services for the first time since they were suspended March 29.

The trains are operating on an irregular schedule, company officials added.

According to a Kyodo News survey conducted between Wednesday and Friday on 100 people living at evacuation centers, the three municipalities’ orders for people to evacuate their homes were “appropriate,” according to 79 people, while 13 disagreed.

Seventy-one people said they supported the decision to remain in the evacuation centers, even after the experts monitoring Mount Usu said Wednesday that the mountain is showing no signs of erupting soon, while 23 said the decision should have been left up to residents.