• Kyodo

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Many residents of the town of Abuta near Mount Usu began returning home Wednesday, nearly two months after being evacuated from the area due to volcanic activity on the mountain.

From 9 a.m., 1,876 people from 782 households in the town’s Takasago and Irie districts, located relatively far from the mountain’s craters, started heading home.

Restrictions on nighttime traffic on National Route 37 were also lifted early Wednesday.

The evacuation order was partially lifted in line with Monday’s report by the Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions that volcanic activity on Mount Usu is gradually subsiding and may soon cease.

However, the evacuation order remains in effect for some 5,000 residents of the Lake Toya hot spring district.

Abuta Mayor Yoshio Nagasaki announced the partial lifting of the evacuation order Tuesday night after consulting with Hiromu Okada, chairman of the local section of the prediction council.

Before making his decision, Nagasaki also met with government authorities, including members of the National Land Agency and National Police Agency, to discuss ways to assist in emergency evacuations should the volcano begin acting up again.

On Monday, the prediction council said volcanic activity on the 732-meter Mount Usu may soon cease.

But it also said continued surveillance is necessary on the western face of Mount Nishi and at Mount Kompira — Mount Usu’s two peaks.

Even so, a violent eruption would be easy to predict through early detection of crust deformation and volcanic smoke, it said.

Mount Usu erupted March 31 for the first time in 23 years and has since been spewing ash, steam and smoke. Nobody has been injured, thanks to early and extensive evacuation efforts.