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Japan volcano erupts again

A volcano in southern Japan erupted today with its biggest explosion yet, shooting out a huge plume of gas, boulders and ash and breaking windows five miles away.

The danger zone around Shinmoedake volcano was widened to keep residents safe. The largest eruption since it burst back to life last week covered wide areas in ash, shot boulders onto distant roads, knocked down trees and broke hundreds of windows in hotels and offices.

No serious injuries have been reported since the initial eruption last Wednesday, but public broadcaster NHK said a woman suffered cuts from shattered glass in today's blast.

NHK said the eruption was five times larger than the initial activity last week, which was Shinmoedake's first major eruption in 52 years.

Japan's Meteorological Agency has restricted access to the mountain, and today broadened the no-go zone to anywhere within a 2.5-mile radius of the crater. Two lodges and scattered homes are within the perimetre.

Dozens of domestic flights in and out of Miyazaki — about 590 miles southwest of Tokyo — were grounded last week and more cancellations followed. Train services was temporarily suspended in the area and many schools closed.

The local government also reported damages to crops.

Officials in the town of Takaharu have urged about 1,100 residents who live near the volcano to go to evacuation centres because of the danger of debris, ash and landslides. The warning was not mandatory, however, and some residents were returning to their homes.

Experts said a dome of lava was growing larger inside the 1,421-metre volcano's crater, but it was not certain whether the dome would grow enough to spill over the rim and create large flows down the volcano's sides.

Avalanches of superheated gas, ash and rock have already been observed.

The Japanese islands, part of the seismically active Pacific "Ring of Fire," are volcanic in origin and dozens of volcanos still are active. In 1991, 43 people died in the eruption of Mount Unzen, also on Kyushu island.