National

City of Shimabara marks 28 years since Fugen Peak eruption — the Heisei Era's first large-scale natural disaster

Kyodo

The city of Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture, commemorated Monday the 43 victims of a huge pyroclastic flow from Mount Unzen’s Fugen Peak, 28 years after the disaster.

Fugen Peak began erupting on Nov. 17, 1990, for the first time in around 200 years. The eruption caused a massive pyroclastic flow, or a fast-moving current of superheated gas, ash and rock, on June 3, 1991, when the lava dome was breached, killing a total of 43 people including locals, reporters and firefighters. It was the first large-scale natural disaster of the Heisei Era.

People offered flowers on Monday at a memorial service held at the city’s Nita Danchi Daiichi Park, where a monument to the victims is located.

“The Heisei Era was beset with disasters,” said Kanichi Kanegae, 88, who was mayor at the time of the disaster, referring to the imperial era that ended April 30. “I would like the era of Reiwa to be one of peace.”

Local farmer Ken Miyazaki, 80, lost a cousin in his 50s in the catastrophe.

“His car was engulfed in the pyroclastic flow and his body still hasn’t been found,” Miyazaki said. “I come to pray every year on June 3, but this chapter will never end.”

A silent prayer will be held at 4:08 p.m., the time of the disaster.

Victims included reporters who continued to monitor pyroclastic flows despite evacuation orders, and local members of the fire brigade who accompanied them.

Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko visited the disaster-stricken area about a month after the disaster to console the victims.

The occasion was the first of many visits from imperial family members to devastated sites across Japan.

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