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Japan Island Threatened by Volcano

June 28, 2000

KAMITSUKI, Japan (AP) _ Tsuruko Kawahara has lived through two volcanic eruptions, and the cookie factory where she works was shut down as officials awaited another possible blast on Mount Oyama.

Still, the 75-year-old Kawahara wouldn’t dream of living anywhere but Miyakejima island in the Pacific Ocean.

``I leave the house all day with the doors unlocked and the windows open,″ she said. ``I would be much more afraid to live with crime in the big cities. A volcano only erupts every once in a while.″

Other residents echoed those feelings, saying they find the 2,686-foot Mount Oyama volcano an uneasy but forgivable neighbor whose dangers fail to outweigh the advantages of an island surrounded by clean ocean waters filled with tasty fish.

The chance of Mount Oyama erupting appeared to be fading Wednesday. Seismologists in Tokyo told reporters the earthquakes that are still rattling the island are drifting out to sea, and there is little chance of the mountain spewing lava on Miyakejima.

Hundreds of people forced from their homes by an evacuation order received a meal at centers on the island Wednesday. Japanese troops served hot rice to about 1,200 evacuees staying at a junior high school, who had previously made do with crackers and instant noodles.

The evacuation warning was issued Monday after intensifying earthquakes signaled a possible eruption at Mount Oyama, on the southern corner of Miyakejima island, 120 miles from Tokyo.

About 4,000 people live on Miyakejima, but some have left to stay at relatives’ and friends’ homes off the island. About 250 people left on a ferry Tuesday.

The uncertainties about the volcano’s activities have been puzzling. Although Mount Oyama has erupted several times in the last 60 years, including in 1983, the blasts usually came quickly and were over in a couple of days.

In previous eruptions, residents saw a pillar of fire shoot up with a bang and sparks scatter like fireworks explosions.

When it erupted in 1962, Kawahara had to flee on foot to a junior high school. ``It was frightening,″ she recalled. ``But I’ve never felt that I don’t want to live here.″

No one was killed or injured in that quake, or the one in 1983, because the residents were evacuated in time.

However, 11 people died and 20 were injured in a 1940 volcanic eruption on the island.

Earthquakes and landslides are so common in Japan that most people, like those in Miyakejima, have to cope with constant worries about such disasters. Major earthquakes are a constant possibility given the nation’s position on tectonic plates, slabs of land that move across the earth’s surface.

Inadequate meals and bathing facilities have been a major problem at the evacuation centers set up on the northern part of Miyakejima, which is still considered safe.

``More than meals, what we want is news about when the evacuation order is going to be lifted,″ said Yasuko Miyagi, a 33-year-old housewife who evacuated with her husband and three young children. ``We want to go home.″

Local government officials met Wednesday to discuss the possible lifting of the evacuation order, but some urged caution. ``We cannot lift the evacuation order until we can be absolutely sure it is safe,″ said government official Masao Umeda.

Police officers stood guard on roads blocked off by orange cones. Many of the inns popular among tourists were closed, and visitors long gone. Only cattle were left grazing on the slopes.

For the evacuees, being cramped into classrooms and gymnasiums was beginning to take its toll. One elderly woman collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep and was given an intravenous drip at one of the centers.

Nights were especially hard, said 56-year-old Mikiko Naoe. People couldn’t agree whether to keep the windows open or shut. It was stuffy, but there were mosquitoes outside.

``Everyone is suffering,″ she said.

Motoharu Komuro, a 49-year-old fisherman, has avoided the evacuation center by choosing to live on his boat, moving it to a safe port.

He, too, loves Miyakejima.

``The sea is great,″ Komuro said. ``I was born and raised here. It’d take a lot of energy to break out of that lifestyle. I love nature here.″

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