Escape plans in works for Fuji eruption

JIJI

The Yamanashi, Shizuoka and Kanagawa prefectural governments are working out evacuation plans for a possible violent eruption of Mount Fuji, amid elation over the adding of Japan’s highest mountain to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage cultural sites.

Mount Fuji, a 3,776-meter volcano, has erupted many times in the past. Experts warn of a possible eruption in the event of a major earthquake.

Since Mount Fuji is similar in size to Kagawa Prefecture and also close to Tokyo as a Shizuoka official notes, a violent eruption could cause serious damage over a wide area, including the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The three prefectural governments are therefore stepping up joint work to complete evacuation plans, in collaboration with the central government, by the end of fiscal 2013 through March 2014.

According to the first part of the plan, announced in May, up to 750,000 residents would have to be evacuated due to widespread lava and pyroclastic flows.

The draft plan divides the region around Mount Fuji into an area where volcanic vents are likely to be created and three other areas where lava flows are expected to reach, within three hours, one day and up to 40 days, respectively.

“We will prepare the most detailed escape plans Japan has ever had for a volcanic eruption,” stressed Shiego Aramaki of the Yamanashi Institute of Environmental Sciences.

As many as 10,000 people climb Mount Fuji daily during the peak climbing period, but they are not counted among the 750,000 evacuees. The number of visitors to the mountain has been increasing since its designation as a World Heritage site in June.

Any actual evacuation therefore is expected to be more difficult than envisioned by the plan.

Mount Fuji last erupted in 1707, dumping large amounts of volcanic ash as far as Chiba’s Boso Peninsula.

The final evacuation plan thus will likely include measures to address the widespread paralysis of traffic systems, including in Tokyo, as well as mud flows from melted snow, which move faster and more widely than lava.

In fiscal 2014, the three prefectures aim to conduct a joint evacuation drill based on the final plan.