Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Japan's Shinmoedake Volcano Eruption Prompts Increased Alert Levels

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Japan's Shinmoedake Volcano Eruption Prompts Increased Alert Levels

Article excerpt

Japan's Shinmoedake volcano, known by James Bond aficionados as the lair of one of 007's enemies, scattered thick ash over a wide area, toppled trees, and shattered windows in buildings and cars five miles away.

Authorities in southern Japan today increased alert levels after a volcano produced its most powerful eruption since it exploded back to life almost a week ago. Concern is mounting that the activity could be a prelude to far more destructive eruptions.

Shinmoedake, part of the Mount Kirishima cluster of volcanoes on the island of Kyushu, scattered thick ash over a wide area, toppled trees, and shattered windows in buildings and cars five miles away.

Local media said boulders had landed on roads some distance from the 4,662-foot peak, while one woman was reportedly cut by broken glass. No serious injuries have been reported since the volcano erupted last Wednesday, its fist major activity for 52 years.

More than 1,000 residents in high-risk areas were advised to seek refuge in evacuation centers, although so far only about 600 have done so. Those who opted to stay at home are protecting themselves from the ash with facemasks and sunglasses.

James Bond aficionados will know Shinmoedake, located on the border of Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures about 950 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, as the underground lair of Blofeld, 007's nemesis in the 1967 film, "You only live twice."

The initial activity forced the cancellation of dozens of flights and disrupted train services. Many local schools were closed and farmers reported ash damage to crops.

Yesterday, officials widened the no-access zone to 2-1/2 miles from the peak, amid warnings from the meteorological agency that the area could be engulfed with hot gas and ash. The general alert level was raised from 2 to 3, on a scale of 1 to 5.

At one point, the initial eruption sent a plume of smoke 3,000 meters into the air, although by the end of last week the cloud had shrunk to a height of about 1,000 meters. …

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