National

Miyake islanders can return home in '05

Displaced since 2000, residents offered life in shadow of active volcano

The village authority of Miyake Island, 180 km south of Tokyo, will lift a nearly four-year-old evacuation order on islanders by early next year, despite ongoing volcanic activity there, village officials said Thursday.

Miyake Village Mayor Sukeyasu Hirano will ask Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara on Tuesday for the metropolitan government’s support for the plan to allow the residents to resettle on the island, they said. The volcanic island is under Tokyo’s administrative jurisdiction.

A series of eruptions of Mount Oyama at the center of the island, beginning in July 2000, prompted the issuance of an evacuation order in September that year.

The active volcano continues to spew volcanic gas, mainly sulfur dioxide.

The residents who return will be the first in Japan to live long term on a remote island in the shadow of a volcano that continues to belch gas. Those who return will be required to carry gas masks at all times, according to the officials.

The village plans to lift the order in January or February.

Miyake residents have been allowed to make short visits to the island in groups to check their property.

The village authority plans to work with the metro government to implement safety steps, such as banning entry to areas where volcanic gas density is high, the officials said.

As of June 1, a total 3,249 Miyake residents in 1,675 households who had to evacuate their homes are scattered in 18 prefectures nationwide.

Village officials said many of the displaced islanders are suffering economically and psychologically.

The village office said about 2,000 of the residents have said they want to return to the island after the evacuation order is lifted.

Residents with respiratory problems who might be affected by the volcanic gas will be asked to refrain from returning for the time being, the officials said.

The officials said high levels of sulfur dioxide have been detected in areas around the volcanic crater, the eastern part of the island where the village office and the airport are located, and the southwestern region, which has a cement plant.

The village will introduce an ordinance to ban people from living in these areas. The roughly 200 people with homes in those areas who wish to return will be asked to move to municipal housing units on other parts of the island, the officials said.

If the volcanic gas density suddenly increases in regions outside the restricted areas, the village office will issue warnings and urge residents to evacuate to indoor facilities or move to other parts of the island, they said.

The village authority will make sure that every household has access to electricity, water and propane gas supply before lifting the evacuation order.

Local public schools will open classes from the next academic year, which begins in April, and school buildings will be rebuilt and equipped with desulfurization devices, the officials said.

No major eruptions have spewed ash on areas at the foot of the volcano since November 2002. The Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions said in late June that volcanic gas will continue to be released for some time.

Coronavirus banner