• Kyodo

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Residents of the municipalities ringing Mount Usu in southwestern Hokkaido held ceremonies Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the volcano erupting.

The tourist association of the Lake Toya hot spring resort said it plans to designate March 31 as the area’s own Disaster Prevention Day and pass on the knowledge and experiences learned from the eruption — which caused no casualties — to future generations.

The association organized a symposium at which volcano experts discussed the possibility of utilizing the volcanic eruption to benefit the area’s tourism industry.

In the afternoon, a group of volunteer runners from Kobe, which suffered serious damage in the Great Hanshin Earthquake of January 1995, presented Abuta Mayor Yoshio Nagasaki with a flame dubbed the “Light of Hope” carried in a lantern in the form of Kobe’s Port Tower landmark.

On March 31 last year, the volcano erupted for the first time in 23 years, forcing up to 16,000 residents to be evacuated in early April.

Although the 732-meter Mount Usu continues to belch white smoke, volcanic activity has subsided and major hotels and inns in the region have all reopened in time for the upcoming peak tourist months. Visitors have begun to return to the area as volcanologists say the coast is clear.

However, evacuation orders are still in effect for 378 people whose homes are located within a 500-meter radius of a new crater close to the town of Abuta that was formed by last year’s eruption, and some 1,300 people have spent the winter in temporary housing.

Local residents also face a dilemma between choosing from their right to make decisions regarding where they live and the need for disaster prevention measures.

Plans have been finalized for new construction work to erect barriers against sand and mudslides. This will require the uprooting of 400 households.

The Hokkaido government is also urging roughly 1,000 households in areas expected to be affected by future eruptions to move out. However, no concrete assistance measures for the families affected have yet been hammered out.

On Saturday, the privately run Toyako Kindergarten, which was demolished by debris from the volcano, held its graduation ceremony at its new building in Abuta. The children have been attending classes at a temporary building for the past year.

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