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Volcano Erupts, 30 People Missing

June 3, 1991

TOKYO (AP) _ A volcano sent hot gas, rocks and ash hurtling into a village in southwestern Japan today, setting fire to homes and forcing the evacuation of 5,000 people. Police said 30 people - 16 of them reporters - were missing.

News reports said a 25-year-old policeman was killed in his patrol car as he tried to warn residents.

Authorities said at least 20 people were injured by today’s outburst by Mount Unzen, a volcano in Nagasaki prefecture that killed 15,000 people in an eruption 200 years ago.

″There is no guarantee that another flow of this scale will not occur again,″ Daisuke Shimozuru, of the Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions, said of today’s eruption. ″But it is nearly impossible to say when or where.″

Police said the missing included 16 journalists and a number of police and firefighters. Japanese news reports said three foreign researchers - a French couple and an American named Harry Glicken - were among the missing.

A volcanologist named Harry Glicken worked for the U.S. Geological Survey until 1989, when he left to pursue post-doctoral studies at Tokyo Metroplitan University. It could not immediately be confirmed if the researcher reported missing near Mount Unzen was the man who worked for the USGS.

Police, firefighters and journalists have been on the mountain monitoring the volcano and reporting on its activity since the current eruption began May 24. There have been almost daily lava flows since then.

About 30 homes caught fire today as lava and gas reached a residential area at the foot of the 4,485-foot volcano for the first time in the latest series of eruptions, the Kyodo News Service said.

Television footage showed a home burning in Kamikoba town, a settlement of 50 houses. Gray ash had covered the area, and patches of forest on the mountainside were aflame.

Fifteen of the 20 injured people were seriously hurt, police said. Most of the injured were believed to have suffered burns.

Scientists said ash, searing gases and hot rocks raced down the valleys today at speeds up to 125 miles an hour. The violent volcanic flow prompted authorities to order some 5,000 people to leave their homes, said Atsushi Noda of the Shimabara city office.

Fires burned late into the evening, and a new lava flow was reported shortly before midnight. Police said they would be unable to enter the area to search for the missing people until at least Tuesday.

Telephone lines were flooded with calls, making communication with the area nearly impossible.

The area, less than 30 miles from Nagasaki, is well known for its many hot springs, which draw many tourists each year.

But the tourist trade was reduced to a trickle after the volcano 610 miles southwest of Tokyo erupted last Nov. 17 for the first time in 198 years, and then again Feb. 12 and May 24.

Landslides and tidal waves created by the volcano’s 1792 eruption killed 15,000 people, the worst volcanic disaster in Japanese history.

Mount Unzen is one of 19 active volcanoes in Japan that have been listed as dangerous and are under constant observation.

Update hourly