Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sakurajima Coughing

I may not have mentioned it recently, but there's a live volcano about 2 miles from my apartment. The mountain itself has a different name, but the island it's on is called Sakura-jima (cherry blossom island). It's had 4-5 really major eruptions in it's long history, with one in the 1700's, and the most recent in 1914. The last eruption spewed out so much lava that it filled a valley at least 8 feet deep, and created a land bridge on the east side connecting the island to the Kyushu peninsula. The main cone faces east, away from Kagoshima city, and I expect that if there is another big eruption, the blast will be away from us.

Yesterday, Sakurajima coughed. I felt a small amount of shaking in the apartment at about 2 PM, which apparently was about when the plume shot up from the volcano. At the time I thought it was just another small earthquake, which is pretty normal for this region. But then the radio started going crazy with announcements that the national weather agency was elevating the eruption warning level to 4. All ferry service between Kagoshima and Sakurajima was being suspended until further notice; air traffic from the airport in Kirishima was being diverted and the bullet train wouldn't be running from the main Chuo train station. Inhabitants on the island were also being urged to evacuate.

Sakurajima chuffed a bit back when I was making my time-lapse video in June, but has been mostly quiet since then. However, there have been several surprise eruptions at other volcanoes around Japan in the last year, including Ondake, which killed 57 hikers back on Sept. 27., 2014. Mount Shindake, which is in Kagoshima Prefecture, on an island about 1-2 hours south by ferry, erupted hard enough on May 27, 2015, that all of the islanders were evacuated and after 1 month still hadn't been allowed to return home. So, there's a kind of hyper-awareness of volcanoes right now, and the fact that the Satsuma-Sendai reactor, which is currently being restarted, is only 35 miles from Kagoshima City is making people even jumpier.

I haven't seen any news on Yahoo this time (the June eruption got mentioned because someone got good photos of it for the media), although a quick google search turns up articles on ABC news and the Manila Times about the elevated warning level. The local radio station kept interrupting the normal program broadcasts every 30 minutes to repeat the same announcements, yesterday. I haven't turned it on this morning so I don't know if anything's changed with that. There are 5-6 webcams that are aimed at the island on the internet, and every single one of them was jammed up yesterday when I tried to look at them (I can't see the volcano from my apartment because there's other buildings in the way). Most of the webcams were showing 90+ users connected, although one had 563. None of them were letting me see the feed, so I couldn't look at the volcano right away. I did go out shopping at 4 PM, 2 hours after the eruption, but the sky was so heavily overcast that the entire top of the volcano was covered in clouds (clouds, not ash), and I still couldn't see the extent of the plume.

This morning, all three English Japanese newspapers had articles on the warning upgrade, but no photos. The Asahi Shimbun ran an archive photo from the June event, when the sky was clear, but apparently there was just no way to see the volcano through the clouds yesterday to get any kind of picture this time.

Neither Ondake nor Shindake have erupted again after their big events, and I doubt Sakurajima is going to be a threat here, either. But, it's gotten people jumpy, and there's no word on when ferry service to the island is going to be restored. I also doubt this is going to affect the Satsuma-Sendai reactor restart.

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