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Residents Visit Homes Near Volcano

April 9, 2000

DATE, Japan (AP) _ Wearing masks, helmets and goggles, dozens of people made quick, supervised visits Sunday to the homes they fled when a nearby volcano in northern Japan burst to life for the first time in 22 years.

It was the first trip home in more than a week for the 101 people who live in the town of Sobetsu near Mount Usu, one of several active volcanoes on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, about 500 miles north of Tokyo. Usu continues to send up clouds of volcanic debris.

The buses that took the residents home were escorted by police, firemen and soldiers, and helicopters circled overhead as people rushed into their houses to collect valuables during the one-hour visit, town hall official Masahiko Kudo said.

Another 60 people returned for a visit the day before, he said.

More than 13,000 residents who live in a broad danger zone around the volcano have been barred from their homes. Some 4,700 are living in government-run shelters.

Experts say the volcano’s biggest blast could come within two weeks. They worry that the powerful eruption could be accompanied by a pyroclastic flow _ a searing mix of gas and rock that races down the mountain incinerating everything in its path.

Also Sunday, more than 100 scallop growers who work in waters inside the danger zone were allowed briefly to tend their shellfish, said Atsushi Fujii of the Hokkaido state government.

The growers spent their allotted 50 minutes attaching buoys to the nets in which the young scallops grow to prevent them from sinking to the ocean floor where they could be eaten by starfish, Fujii said.

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