FUKUOKA – A day after the eruption of Mount Shindake caused the evacuation of a small island off Kyushu, evacuees on Saturday began bracing for a long stay away from home as the Meteorological Agency warned of more eruptions to come.
The agency said Mount Shindake’s eruption on Kuchinoerabu Island, some 100 km off the southern tip of Kyushu, apparently stopped on Saturday morning but warned that “large-scale” explosions might follow, calling on all affected to stay alert.
Kyoto University volcano expert Masato Iguchi, a member of the agency’s Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions who on Saturday surveyed the volcano aboard a helicopter, said the latest round of activity is still at an early stage, considering the scale of Friday’s eruption and the estimated amount of magma underneath.
Iguchi added that the island’s volcanic activity needs to be viewed in a time frame ranging anywhere from a month to three years, given its past eruptions.
By Friday evening, all of the 137 residents and visitors on Kuchinoerabu had taken refuge on nearby Yakushima Island.
Among them are 16 elementary and junior high school students, who are being taken in by schools on Yakushima. They will join classes starting Monday, officials said. Since most left the island without their textbooks, school supplies and other personal belongings, those items will be provided by the schools on Yakushima, the officials said.
To ease concerns, the municipality is also considering providing health workers at the shelters.
“I couldn’t sleep well,” a 59-year-old female evacuee said, describing her first night at a shelter. She said she and her husband will move to the city of Kagoshima, where one of their sons lives.
Yoshifumi Konoo, head of the elementary and junior high school on Kuchinoerabu, said there was no confusion among the students on Friday night. But he did admit to being taken by surprise by the 626-meter mountain’s most recent blast.
“We are not prepared enough. There is a worry that we may have to spend a long time living away from home,” he said.
Junior high school student Kaede Kibune spoke of her desire to go home as soon as possible, although she said she wasn’t lonely Friday night because she was with her friends.
Some of the other evacuees are already stressed out. “I couldn’t sleep at all, wondering how long it’s going to take before I can return,” said Kyoko Osako, 63. “In the worst-case scenario, we would need to think about migrating to Yakushima.”
Government officials led by Ryosei Akazawa, senior vice minister of disaster prevention, have arrived at the well-forested island to discuss ways to support the evacuees, including with temporary housing. Most fled with just the clothes on their backs.
“We’ll ensure the safety of the islands and enhance our monitoring of the volcano. And we’ll do everything to support the evacuees’ lives,” Akazawa told Yakushima Mayor Koji Araki.
“The evacuees are worried about when they can go home. They did not bring any necessities,” Araki told him.
On Saturday morning, the Kagoshima Prefectural Government had a chopper conduct a 30-minute surveillance flight over Kuchinoerabu.
Friday’s eruption sent a plume of ash and smoke shooting 9 km into the atmosphere and a dangerous pyroclastic flow of hot gas and rock sliding down the volcano’s slopes to the ocean. On Saturday morning, smoke was observed lingering at an altitude of around 200 meters, the weather agency said.
The eruption also dropped ash on Yakushima, some 12 km to the east. The lush World Natural Heritage site is famous for its 3,000-year-old cedar trees.
Mount Shindake’s most recent eruption was on Aug. 3 last year, prompting 87 people, including visitors on business, to leave the following day. Experts had recorded unusual activity for about a decade leading up to the eruption.
Kuchinoerabu is situated in an area that contains several active volcanoes and has experienced numerous bouts of volcanic activity since its colossal eruption of 1841.