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Earthquake, typhoon and volcano all hit island idyll

Owen Bowcott and agencies
Tuesday July 11, 2000

If you think Britain is enduring a miserable summer, pity the residents of Miyake-jima. The tiny Pacific island has been hit by three natural disasters - an earthquake, a typhoon and an erupting volcano - in the past three days.

At this time of year Miyake-jima is normally packed with holidaymakers from the Japanese mainland who fly south to swim, spot dolphins or go fishing.

Yesterday the island's 46 hotels and inns and its camp sites were virtually deserted; the twice-daily flights between Miyake-jima and Tokyo less than half full.

The conjunction of cataclysms began two weeks ago when the 815-metre (2,670-ft) Mount Oyama began to rumble. Half of the 4,000-strong population were evacuated from their homes and an undersea explosion shook the island's western coast.

In the last two weeks, Miyake-jima and neighbouring islands have been jolted by thousands of quakes, including one on July 1 which registered 6.4 on the Richter scale and crushed a motorist to death under falling rocks.

Then, on Saturday, Mount Oyama erupted at its peak for the first time in 60 years, according to the meteorological agency in Tokyo. A cloud of yellow ash shot up 800 metres, showering cars, houses and streets with stones. There were no casualties.

On Sunday morning, an earthquake measuring 6.1 sent rocks and mud tumbling, cracked roads and burst a water main. Later in the day, a typhoon that had killed more than 80 people in the Philippines raced up Japan's eastern coast, lashing Miyake-jima with strong winds and heavy rains. Five people were killed on the Japanese mainland.

And there is no end in sight just yet. Yesterday the meteorological agency warned the earthquakes indicate that the volcano will continue to erupt.


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