Japan’s Mount Shimmoe volcano cakes city in ash day after first explosive eruption in seven years

In Kirishima city at the foot of the volcano, pedestrians wore surgical masks or covered their noses with hand towels, while others used umbrellas to protect from falling ash

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 10:20pm

Powerful volcanic eruptions continued at Japan’s Mount Shimmoe on Wednesday, a day after its first explosive eruption in seven years, with smoke reaching up to 3,000 meters.

Local authorities around the 1,421-metre volcano that straddles Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures on the southwestern Japan main island of Kyushu remained cautious against further large-scale eruptions.

Ash spewed from the volcano continued to disrupt flights at the Kagoshima airport while the Japan Meteorological Agency maintained an alert level that restricts access to the mountain.

Following a small eruption on Thursday last week, active volcanic tremors had been detected before the volcano erupted explosively on Tuesday afternoon, according to the agency.

In an eruption early on Wednesday, a large volcanic rock flew about 1 kilometre from the crater, the agency said. No injuries or building damage have been reported.

On Wednesday, a thick film of soot covered cars in Kirishima city at the base of the volcano. People wore surgical masks and covered their mouths with towels. Others used umbrellas to shield themselves from the settling ash.

Lava continued to simmer inside the crater, and the meteorological agency warned about the risk of dense volcanic rocks hurling through the air.

Officials cautioned people near Mount Shimmoe about the possibility of deadly pyroclastic flows. The flows are made up of lava blocks, pumice, ash and superheated volcanic gas that barrels down a volcano’s slope to vaporise essentially anything in its path, resembling something like a tumbling avalanche that trades snow for piping-hot debris.

“The extreme temperatures of rocks and gas inside pyroclastic flows, generally between 200 degrees Celsius and 700 degrees Celsius (390-1300 degrees Fahrenheit),” the US Geological Survey said.

They can destroy buildings, forests and ignite fires. And if the rocks piling up to 700 feet don’t kill you, the agency warned, the heated gas and ash can choke you to death.

Volcanoes in Japan have been deadly in recent years.

An eruption of Mount Ontake in 2014 killed about 60 people, many of them hikers, raising questions about the role of early warnings when activity such as escalating gas release is often a sign of an imminent eruption.

In January, an eruption at central Japan’s Mount Kusatsu-Shirane killed a training soldier and injured 11 people in the resulting ash cloud.

Mount Shimmoe, which erupted in a similar fashion in 2011, might be recognisable for spy thriller fans.

The 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice featured the volcano in its climatic scene involving the infiltration of a secret lair concealed deep within.

Kyodo, Associated Press, The Washington Post