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Volcano Erupts in Southern Japan, Residents Flee

May 29, 2015 12:02 PM EDT
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A volcano erupted in spectacular fashion on a small island in southern Japan on Friday, spewing out rocks and ash, causing local residents to evacuate and flee the scene.

Mount Shindake, located in the center of Kuchinoerabu Island, erupted shortly before 10 a.m. local time, the Japan Meteorological Agency said, according to CNN. Just a few minutes later the agency raised its eruption-alert level from three to the highest level of five.

According to NBC News, the volcanic eruption was described as one of "explosive power," blowing thick black plumes of smoke 9,000 meters (~30,000 feet) from the crater, according to Sadayuki Kitagawa, director of the Meteorological Agency's Volcanology Division. Even so, it has little effect on air travel, with no cancellations or major route changes reported.

"There was a really loud, 'dong' sound of an explosion, and then black smoke rose, darkening the sky," Nobuaki Hayashi, a local village chief, told public broadcaster NHK, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Also, potentially dangerous pyroclastic flows have reached the island's shore, prompting the government to issue an evacuation order to all of the island's 137 residents, officials said.

So far, one person was reported to have suffered minor burns from falling debris.

Kuchinoerabu Island is located 130 kilometers southwest of Kagoshima city in the southern part of Japan, and 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Japan's main southern island of Kyushu.

Japan famously sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," so volcanic eruptions are common in the region. This is the second time that Mount Shindake erupted in an 8-month period. It also erupted in August last year for the first time since 1980.

Then, last September, another volcano called Mount Ontake in central Japan erupted without warning and claimed the lives of 57 people.

The island is still on high alert because according to Setsuya Nakada, a professor at Tokyo University, more powerful eruptions are likely.

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