• Kyodo

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Residents and hotel and inn operators from the foot of Mount Usu, southwestern Hokkaido, began to return home Thursday, following the partial lifting of an evacuation order that has been in effect since the March 31 eruption.

The town of Abuta at the foot of the 732-meter volcano decided Wednesday to lift the evacuation order covering the Lake Toya hot spring resort area, allowing some 395 people from 225 households to return home from 7 a.m. Thursday.

The evacuation order is still effective for 1,018 households, displacing 1,934 people, according to town officials.

Utilities in the area located north of the volcano and on the southern shore of the lake have been nearly restored, the officials said, adding that main roads are still closed due to piles of mud and ash from the volcano.

Residents in the area have been allowed to return home since May for short periods of time.

The eruption of Mount Usu and the ensuing evacuation orders that have been in force for more than three months have disastrously affected the local tourism industry.

Even after the evacuation order is lifted, it will take time for local hotels to resume business, as they are required to provide emergency evacuation manuals to guests.

Although efforts to remove volcanic ash from the district are in progress, some shopkeepers said the lifting of evacuation orders would be meaningless unless tourists come back to the area.

The volcano erupted in March for the first time in nearly 23 years but no one was injured thanks to large-scale evacuations.

The volcanic activity is gradually subsiding and may soon cease, according to volcanologists.