Six months after the evacuation order was lifted for residents of Miyake Island, life remains fraught with challenges ranging from frequent toxic gas warnings to mountains of unprocessed garbage.
The Miyake village office estimates that roughly 2,000 people have resettled on the island some 180 km south of Tokyo since the official evacuation order, in place since they were forced to move out due to volcanic eruptions of Mount Oyama in September 2000, was lifted Feb. 1.
Living in some parts of the island is still prohibited due to high density of sulfur dioxide, and volcanic gas warnings have been issued seven times over the past six months in areas where islanders have resettled.
When volcanic gas advisories are issued, residents are supposed to don gas masks and stay indoors. When a warning is issued, they are required to go to a designated shelter.
Such warnings were issued twice in April, once in May and four times in July.
However, during six of the seven warnings, only 20 to 40 islanders took refuge at designated shelters.
On one occasion, nobody showed up at any of the shelters.
“The shelters are in the northern part of the island, too far from my house. On some occasions, I parked a car on my way there and slept inside the car,” said a 58-year-old man who lives in the southern part of the island.
“I am worried that the residents are getting used to living with volcanic gas,” said Sukeyasu Hirano, the village mayor. The village plans to hold an evacuation drill in September for all residents.
Meanwhile, some residents complain that gas advisories and warnings are broadcast from loudspeakers all over the island — day and night.
The village says it will stop broadcasting advisories when relatively low levels of sulfur dioxide are detected in areas where the islanders are not allowed to live.
When the evacuation order was issued in 2000, about 3,200 residents had to flee the island.
According to the village office, 1,851 people in 1,080 households had submitted documents necessary to apply for the government’s financial support program as of last Wednesday. Because some islanders are believed to have returned without submitting the documents, the village estimates the number of resettled islanders at about 2,000 — roughly in line with official expectations.
As they returned to the island over the past six months, one of the first things they did was to discard their household equipment, including futon, tatami mats and electric appliances that were rendered useless during their almost 4 1/2-year absence.
The amount of such garbage has increased as more islanders return.
In the playground at Tsubota Junior High School, mountains of garbage, including refrigerators and TV sets as well as construction material, wait to be shipped off the island because they cannot be processed there.
But the village government says it will take time before the refuse is cleaned up because it has to shipped on vessels bit by bit.
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