Volcano made famous by 007 menaces Japan island
TOKYO – In the James Bond version, circa 1967, Japan's Mount Shinmoe was a serene, extinct peak with a scenic, lake-filled crater that provided the perfect perch for 007 and his bikini-clad partner to surveil the lair of supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
In real life, it turns out the volcano doesn't have a secret rocket base hidden in its depths as it did in "You Only Live Twice."
It's also not extinct.
In its biggest series of eruptions in 52 years, Mount Shinmoe burst back to life last week and is wreaking havoc with airline schedules, forcing schools and roads to close and dumping ash and rocks across towns on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands.
On Thursday, the volcano spewed a huge plume one mile (1,500 meters) into the air and sent rubble cascading down its forested slopes. Officials say they expect the eruptions to continue, and possibly intensify, for weeks to come.
"We really have no idea how long this is going to go on," said Tomoharu Konan, a town official in Takaharu, which lies at the foot of the volcano. "We got a lot of ash in the first several days, and it covered our farms. We will have to make long term plans for how to deal with this situation."
To keep the curious out, a danger zone around Shinmoe has been widened to a radius of 2 1/2 miles (four kilometers) from its crater. Local officials said the mountain is remote enough to keep that from being much of an issue — only two small lodges are located in the no-access area.
No significant injuries have been reported since the initial eruption last Wednesday, though a 92-year-old woman reportedly suffered cuts from shattered glass when a window was smashed in a pulse of air from a subsequent eruption.
Disruptions to travel have been a bigger problem.
Dozens of domestic flights in and out of Miyazaki — a city of 365,000 about 590 miles (950 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo — were grounded last week. Though some flights had been restored, airport officials said ash on the ground and in the air forced more cancellations Thursday. Volcanic ash advisories were in effect for the area, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Train service was temporarily suspended in the area and many schools closed, and the local government has reported damage to crops and cattle.
Officials in Takaharu, which has a population of 9,900, have urged about 1,100 residents who live near the volcano to go to evacuation centers because of the danger of debris, ash and landslides. The warning was not mandatory, however, and some residents were staying home.
Experts said a dome of lava was growing larger inside the 4,662-foot (1,421-meter) 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, along with spectacular electrical storms within the volcano's plume.
The Japanese islands, located along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," are volcanic in origin and dozens of volcanos — including the picturesque Mount Fuji, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Tokyo — are in various stages of activity. Thirteen are in the highest, or "A," level of activity, according to the Geological Survey of Japan.
In 1991, 43 people died in the eruption of Mount Unzen, also on Kyushu island.