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Some 280 of the remaining residents of Miyake left the island aboard a ferry Saturday afternoon, in accordance with an evacuation order issued by local officials the previous day as fears rose that islanders could be injured by falling rocks superheated by volcanic activity and ash thrown out from Mount Oyama.

Local officials from Miyake village dispatched 10 of the municipality’s buses to collect residents from the 55-sq.-km island and transfer them to the port of Miike to board ships bound for metropolitan Tokyo, about 200 km to the north, they said.

Loudspeakers across the island relayed messages informing residents of the mandatory evacuation from 7 a.m. The first vessel, the liner Sutoretia Maru, left Miyake shortly after 3 p.m. with 284 evacuees and seven village officials aboard. Elderly islanders, as well as those requiring medical care, were given priority in boarding the ships.

A total of 129 of those aboard were expected to arrive at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward late Saturday night, where they will be housed until they move into public housing units provided by the metropolitan government. Other evacuees were expected to stay with friends and relatives.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara arrived at Miyake Island on Saturday afternoon to see for himself conditions and to discuss future plans with village officials.

He also visited nearby Kozu and Niijima islands, which like Miyake have been affected by a recent series of earthquakes.

On Friday, Miyake Mayor Ko Hasegawa ordered that all 3,855 of the island’s residents — excluding an estimated 400 people who will be involved in maintaining administrative and essential life-support systems — be evacuated by Monday afternoon.

The order came after the Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions, which has been monitoring Mount Oyama, warned that pyroclastic flows could be released from the volcano, which rumbled back to life in late June.

Miyake officials estimate that about 1,200 residents remain on the island, not including people who have temporarily returned to retrieve personal belongings to prepare for an extended period away from their homes. Experts say they may be forced to stay away from the island for months.

All 444 schoolchildren had already left the island as of Friday, officials said. Of these, about 350 are boarding at Akikawa High School in Akiruno, western Tokyo, where classes are scheduled to commence Monday.

Local fire and village authorities began visiting households Saturday afternoon to compile a list of evacuated residents and those who would remain in an effort to keep accurate records of residents’ whereabouts.

The cooperation of police would be requested if anyone refused to evacuate the island, they said. Because the evacuation is being ordered by administrative authorities, islanders will not need to pay their travel expenses.

Members of Miyake’s 1,972 households crowded the village office to apply for public housing that will be their temporary homes when they reach Tokyo.

So far, 877 units are available within Tokyo and an additional 310 in neighboring prefectures. The metropolitan government said it was expecting to have between 400 and 500 more temporary homes by Thursday.

Village authorities said they intend to limit the working hours of the 400 people who are to stay behind on the island to eight hours during the hours of daylight from Tuesday.

The Japan Coast Guard, Defense Agency, local fire department and police will dispatch helicopters to operate two-hour shifts to observe volcanic activity on Mount Oyama during those hours to ensure the safety of the people on the ground, they said.

People who will remain include staff of the village office, police, firefighters, doctors and people given the task of maintaining utility supplies, including water and gas pipes.

They will sleep aboard ships off the coast as a precaution against pyroclastic flows that cannot be observed at night.

Special shelters have also been set up at dozens of locations around the island so people will not be unprotected if the volcano erupts and showers them with volcanic rock and ash.

Yukie Yamagami, a 48-year-old woman waiting for the bus in the Tsubota district, said her husband, a metropolitan government worker, and 24-year-old son, who works at the village office, would both be staying behind.

“I’m terribly worried, especially about my son. It’s a shock to have to leave alone,” she said.

In the Ako district in the western part of the island, a 56-year-old woman waiting for the bus with her husband said, “We’re the only ones left around here.”

“It’s a relief (to leave the island), but I’m anxious over what life will be like (on the mainland),” a 60-year-old taxi driver said as the ferry left the pier.

Earth moving again

Small-scale tectonic movements have been detected again on Miyake Island for the first time since the volcano’s largest eruption on Aug. 18, Meteorological Agency officials said Saturday.

Since volcanic activity began on the island’s Mount Oyama, expansions and contractions in the volcano have been monitored and rises and falls in crustal temperatures noted several times a day through the Aug. 18 eruption.

After the recent tailing-off of activity, however, similar tectonic movements, albeit a fraction of those previously recorded, reappeared on monitors Saturday, officials said.

Measuring devices using satellite global positioning systems show that the northeast portion of the island has sunk 20 cm in four days, after low-temperature pyroclastic flows were observed on Monday.

“We do not know if these tectonic movements are warnings of another eruption or not,” one agency official said.

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