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Japanese Visit Homes Near Volcano

April 10, 2000

DATE, Japan (AP) _ After experts ruled that a major eruption was unlikely, 215 people evacuated from villages near a volcano in northern Japan on Monday checked on their homes and farms.

Scientists believe the volcanic activity on Mount Usu on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, has ``stabilized,″ with water and magma mixing underground and causing steam to flow from numerous craters, Meteorological Agency official Akimichi Takagi said.

Some 13,000 people have been barred from their homes for more than a week since the volcano showed signs of erupting, with around 5,000 staying in government-run emergency shelters.

On Monday, residents from evacuated areas in the towns of Date and Sobetsu returned home for supervised, seven-hour visits.

Since rumbling to life on March 31, Usu has been spewing clouds of ash and rock. But residents who looked in on their homes saw that nothing had changed _ not even a layer of ash.

Residents received handouts instructing them to stay within specified zones and were accompanied by police and fire department officials as they drove toward their houses.

Separately, 25 people from the town of Abuta, which has been completely evacuated, were allowed to go home for visits of under an hour to check on their houses and pick up things they needed.

They were required to wear helmets and masks. Many said they ended up with only a few minutes at home after a long bus ride through the rural area.

Sueko Uchida, 77, said she was only able to grab some clean underwear before police ordered her to get back on the bus.

``I didn’t even have time to take my boots off,″ Uchida said.

Takagi said scientists were looking for a way to detect changes in the magma supply in the volcano in order to predict an eruption.

A big eruption could be accompanied by pyroclastic flow, a searing mix of rock and ash that races down the mountain and incinerates everything in its path.

Officials say no lives are in danger, since towns and villages within a broad danger zone have been evacuated and many roads have been closed. But farms and hot spring resorts _ the backbone of the local economy _ could be destroyed.

___

On the Net:

Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program: http://www.nmnh.si.edu/gvp/

Volcanoes Online (geared toward children): http://library.thinkquest.org/17457/english.html

The Volcano Information Center: http://www.geol.ucsb.edu/(tilde)fisher/

The Electronic Volcano: http://www.dartmouth.edu/(tilde)volcano/

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