Volcano residents grab brief homecoming

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The Independent Online

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.

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. 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 the 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 that fall in the danger zone were taken briefly out to sea to tend their shellfish, said Atsushi Fujii of the Hokkaido state government.

To protect their crops until the evacuation order is lifted, the growers spent their allotted 50 minutes preventing them from sinking to the ocean floor where they could be eaten by starfish, Fujii said.

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