• Kyodo

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Twenty-seven residents from Kuchinoerabu Island in Kagoshima Prefecture who evacuated when Mount Shindake erupted last week returned to the island for a short time Monday morning.

They were mainly members of the local volunteer fire corps and people who raise farm animals on the small island. They visited each house to make safety checks and unplug household appliances as well as to check on the condition of their livestock.

It was the first return by residents following Friday’s volcanic eruption. As a safety precaution against another eruption by Shindake while they were on the island, three helicopters from the Self-Defense Forces, the prefectural police and the land ministry, as well a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat, was put on standby.

The 27 residents journeyed the 12 km to their island aboard three fishing boats from Yakushima Island.

All of Kuchinoerabu’s residents have been evacuated and are staying on Yakushima or in the city of Kagoshima.

Two of the boats headed to the Honmura district, the most heavily populated area, while the third went to the Yumugi district.

The town of Yakushima, which has jurisdiction over Kuchinoerabu, planned the brief return at the request of the evacuees. Town executives said they decided to let them go Monday morning because the rainy season is expected to start as early as Tuesday, which will make such a visit more difficult.

Experts say rain could turn the accumulated volcanic ash and pyroclastic flow into avalanches of mud and debris, causing damage to houses, crops and livestock.

It has been confirmed that pyroclastic flow spread from the crater to all directions, covering around 20 percent of the island and drawing close to villages.

The Meteorological Agency announced Monday that it had confirmed a white plume of smoke was rising from Shindake’s crater, meaning that the eruption has stopped.

Black smoke would mean the eruption was still in progress, as volcanic ash would be escaping.

The agency said a strict watch needs to be maintained as an eruption as big as last week’s is possible at any time.

Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito visited three evacuation centers on Yakushima on Monday, and said the prefectural government will help the islanders in every possible way so they can rebuild their lives.

Meanwhile, students from Kanagatake Elementary and Junior High School on Kuchinoerabu visited schools on Yakushima on Monday.

They were expected to visit classrooms and view facilities at the schools and meet their new classmates before attending classes full-time on Tuesday.

According to the Yakushima City Hall, 13 out of 16 evacuated students enrolled in schools on Yakushima. The remaining students evacuated to the city of Kagoshima.

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