The Meteorological Agency on Wednesday raised the alert level for a volcano on Kuchinoerabu Island, urging residents there to prepare for possible evacuation.
The level now stands at the second-highest of four on a scale of five, up from two, which only restricts entrance to areas close to the crater, the agency said.
The decision to raise the alert level comes after increased seismic activity was observed on the island, which is in Kagoshima Prefecture. It warned people to stay alert against possible pyroclastic flows and falling volcanic rocks.
Violent volcanic eruptions were recorded in 2015, which forced all of the island’s 137 residents to evacuate. At that time, the alert level had been raised to the highest level. The agency said this time the volcanic activity there could intensify faster than it did in 2015.
The town of Yakushima, which administers the island, instructed elderly residents within a 3 kilometer radius of the crater to evacuate immediately. The Kagoshima Prefectural Government has set up an anti-disaster unit headed by Gov. Satoshi Mitazono, while the central government has also established a liaison body at the Prime Minister’s Office for crisis management.
The 10th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters based in the city of Kagoshima has dispatched patrol boats to the sea off Kuchinoerabu Island and issued radio alerts about the volcano to ships sailing in the area.
“In the past week, smoke that looked like a white cloud billowed from the crater and the smell of sulfur was hanging in the air — the same situation as immediately before the 2015 eruption,” said Kazutomi Hidaka, 67, who lives some 3 km northwest of the crater.
A manager of an inn on the island said she is preparing to evacuate guests by ship to Yakushima Island, located about 12 km east of Kuchinoerabu. One daily ferry service connects the two islands, and the town of Yakushima, which operates the service, said Wednesday morning it does not plan to increase the number sailings between the islands.
By 10 a.m. Wednesday, 26 volcanic earthquakes had occurred, with the strongest one registering magnitude 1.9. The epicenter was about 5 km deep — the same as when volcanic eruptions last occurred in 2015.