DATE, Hokkaido – Some 520 elementary and junior high school students who had been evacuated returned to their classes in the town of Abuta on Monday, about two months after Mount Usu erupted in southwestern Hokkaido, school officials said.
The number of students who began classes on Monday was about 100 fewer than before the eruption, since many children have moved to other schools, according to the officials.
The students at Abuta Elementary School and Abuta Junior High School had been attending special classes in the nearby towns of Toyoura and Oshamambe.
On Sunday, Abuta town officials lifted an evacuation order covering areas including the elementary and junior high schools and prepared buses for children who had been evacuated to municipalities such as Date and Toya.
Sixth-grader Yoshiaki Yoshida, 11, expressed his happiness over their return, saying, “I would like to meet up with my baseball team and play with them again.”
The two schools conducted evacuation drills Monday in preparation for any future eruptions.
Abuta Senior High school also resumed classes in a new temporary school building on the sports grounds of Toyoura Senior High school.
However, elementary and junior high schools based in Abuta’s Lake Toya hot-spring district continued holding classes at schools in Toyoura.
Nearly two months after the latest series of eruptions began, about 3,300 people — mostly residents of the Lake Toya hot spring resort area — remain evacuated from their houses.
Experts with the Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions announced last week that volcanic activity at the 732-meter volcano is gradually subsiding and may soon cease.
But it remains unclear how soon — or whether — the hot spring resort will be able to reopen to customers. About 3.5 million tourists visit the area in a normal year.
Abuta Mayor Yoshio Nagasaki is under increasing pressure from local residents seeking to rebuild their lives to lift the evacuation orders.
Nagasaki says hotels and inns at the hot springs area are largely undamaged by the eruptions and will be able to start business once the evacuation orders are lifted.