A volcano in western Japan flared Sunday night, sending a massive plume of black smoke into the sky and spewing rocks.
The volcano, called Sakurajima, is located southwest of Kyushu Island, about 600 miles from Tokyo. It is one of the most vigorous volcanoes in Japan.
The Japan Meteorological Agency lifted the volcano’s alert level from level 3 to level 5, the highest for another volcano in 2015, The Japan Times reported.
Based on an analysis of data points including seismic activity and crustal movement, the agency later said a massive eruption on Sakurajima was not imminent.
The volcano erupted around 8:05 p.m. Sunday. local time, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Video of the eruption showed bright orange lava pouring from the volcano. The agency urged residents to raise the pyroclastic flow, a hot and moving mixture of rock, ash, and gas about 2 kilometers from the site.
Local reports said the volcanic rock fell 1.5 miles from the site of the volcano, and some nearby areas were told to evacuate. There is a bay between most of Kagoshima City and the volcano.
There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
The nuclear regulator said no irregularities were noticed at the Sendai nuclear power plant, about 31 miles from the volcano.
This is the second time Japan has entered a state of high alert after the eruption of the Kuchinoraybe volcano in Kagoshima Prefecture in 2015.
The agency said on Sunday that since July 18, it had observed slight crustal movement, indicating that the volcano was expanding. The Nanyue Crater erupted four times from Saturday to Sunday afternoon, with plumes reaching 1,200 meters.
Rocks flew out of the Nanyue crater, mainly in the east and southeast, in Sunday’s explosive eruption, according to reports.
There was also a smaller eruption around 6:30 am. The plume rose by 2,200 meters on Monday, the agency said.
While Japanese schools are currently on summer break, after-school kindergartens, nurseries, and kids’ clubs in the area have been canceled. Club activities in primary and secondary schools will also be suspended, and teachers will be asked not to come to work.
The county government and police are using helicopters to monitor the situation from the air.
Nervous residents voiced their fears on Sunday night, with many baffled by the scale of the outbreak. Mami Aoyama, who works at a hotel in Sakurajima, said she was rushing to take a ferry back to downtown Kagoshima, the prefectural capital.
“The manager told me to go home, so I rushed home by boat. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or after that,” he said, calling it a “terrible new experience.”
A 76-year-old resident outside the evacuation zone said Monday she panicked and started packing after hearing about the outbreak on TV. Normally he would hear noises on the ground, but this time “he didn’t hear anything”, he said.
Yudai Yonekura, 35, spent the night with relatives at an evacuation center on Sunday night after seeing his work window shake due to the outbreak.
“If we are forced to stay here, we have to think about finding a hotel,” Yonekura said.
The 1914 eruption spewed enough lava to seal the strait between the volcanic island of Sakurajima in Kagoshima Bay and the Osumi Peninsula in Kyushu, the country’s main southwestern island.