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Since 3/11, fears of Fuji eruption have grown

Westerlies could rain ash across Kanto, lava could sever vital routes

Chunich Shimbun

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear crisis were unparalled disasters, but people in and around Shizuoka Prefecture fear the ultimate catastrophe — the eruption of Mount Fuji — may be looming.

“If Mount Fuji were to erupt, the consequences will be felt in the Kanto region and beyond,” Hideo Ogawa, head of Shizuoka Prefecture’s disaster management department, said during a meeting held by the Cabinet Office in June on the possibility of such calamity. “This is an issue that requires surrounding prefectures to collaborate and take prompt measures.”

The meeting, attended by approximately 60 organizations, including government bodies as well as officials from Shizuoka, Kanagawa and Yamanashi prefectures, concluded that studies on possible evacuation routes in the surrounding area should start in January.

Measures to evacuate residents as well as tourists out of the region should also be prepared, they said, with an eye at holding a large-scale evacuation drill in 2014.

The possibility of evacuees rushing to safe areas in the Chubu region must also be taken into account, the meeting also concluded.

“Once the eruption happens, Kanagawa may experience severe damage, depending on the wind,” said Kiyoshi Sato, chief of the prefecture’s counterdisaster office.

Toshitsugu Fujii, chairman of the Meteorological Agency’s eruption prediction panel, said pertinent parties should coordinate closely.

The Meteorological Agency has said Mount Fuji has shown little volcanic activity of late. But some quarters are concerned that the Great East Japan Earthquake may have put pressure on Japan’s largest volcano.

“It’s been 300 years since the last eruption, and one could take place at any time It is possible the tectonic shift triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake worsened the condition,” Fujii said.

Mount Fuji last erupted during the Edo Period in December 1707, only 49 days after a major earthquake struck off the coast of Wakayama.

The correlation between an earthquake and volcanic activity has been pointed out in other occasions, including major eruptions in Indonesia and Chile.

In a report compiled by the Meteorological Agency in 2004, the agency said western Kanagawa could get ash accumulations of up to reach 60 cm if Mount Fuji has an eruption similar to the one in 1707, depending on the wind.

The prevailing westerlies could carry ash as far as central Tokyo and lead to accumulations of 4 cm, the report said, adding that the nation’s economic losses from such a disaster could reach ¥2.5 trillion in terms of damage to agriculture and health.

The potential lava flow from an eruption could also, depending on its direction, sever the nation’s key east-west transportation networks, including the Tokaido Shinkansen Line and the Tomei Expressway, noted Masato Koyama, a professor of volcanology at Shizuoka University.

“A similar eruption to that of in 1707 will cause much wider damage to the country” by devastating western Japan as well, he said.

The agency has positioned some 30 sensitive earthquake detectors and GPS systems to observe geographic fluctuations.

Mount Fuji is under 24-hour surveillance for any irregularities, including changes in the rate of swelling. If the agency judges an eruption is imminent, it will elevate its 5-level warning scale, even to the point of ordering evacuations.

There meanwhile are concerns, however, about how an ungrounded eruption scare could damage the local tourism industry.

Due to the recent popularity of mountain climbing, visitors to Mount Fuji have been on a rise in recent years. The iconic cone could also see a boost if next summer UNESCO chooses it as a world cultural heritage site.

Although close vigilance and preparations for the worst are necessary, an official at the tourism agency in the Shizuoka city of Fujinomiya said visitors “call in and ask about the safety of Mount Fuji every time there is a report on it. I realize the need to prepare, but the impact it will have on the local tourists should also be considered,” he said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Monday.