Jan 24, 2018

Volcanic tremor hinders search operation after deadly eruption in Japan

KUSATSU, Japan - A volcanic tremor forced police and firefighters to suspend search operations on Wednesday at a ski resort near a volcano in eastern Japan that erupted the day before, officials said.

The sudden eruption of Mt. Moto-Shirane in Gunma Prefecture on Tuesday morning rained volcanic rocks onto people at the Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort, killing a 49-year-old Ground Self-Defense Force sergeant major training there and injuring 11 skiers.

While the number of volcanic earthquakes has dropped significantly since the eruption at 9:59 a.m. Tuesday, the Japan Meteorological Agency warned that the 2,171-meter mountain could erupt again and spew large volcanic rocks.

Kenji Nogami, a professor of geochemistry at Tokyo Institute of Technology who is conducting a field survey, said the latest eruption was a "typical phreatic eruption," in which groundwater heated by lava turns into vapor and explodes.

The land ministry sent experts to survey the eruption by helicopter, while local police and firefighters were searching by land to make sure there were no other victims left behind, before the operation was halted Wednesday morning.

The experts said the risk of landslides occurring at Mt. Moto-Shirane is believed to be low at the moment.

Volcanic mudflow often accompanies an eruption at a snowy mountain. When massive amounts of melted snow mixes with soil, it can turn into a huge mudflow that can travel at speeds of over 60 kilometers-per-hour and damage a wide area, requiring quick evacuations by people downhill.

Yasuo Ishizaki, a volcanic geology professor at the University of Toyama, said although the likelihood of volcanic mudflow occurring at the mountain appears to be low, "if a large-scale eruption accompanying excretion of lava occurs, it would increase the risk."

The number of volcanic earthquakes surpassed 400 in the first five hours of the eruption but none were observed from midnight to 9 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.




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