UPDATE: Japan’s Sakurajima volcano experiences small eruption

UPDATE: Wednesday August 19th, 9:22AM CST

Japanese officials confirmed that a very small eruption occurred on the Sakurajima volcano this morning at 3:13AM JST, according to The Japan Times.

While residents of Kagoshima, the city below the volcano, have been warned that evacuation may be imminent, the most recent eruption is one of the smallest to occur over the past year. More than 1,000 eruptions have taken place since January.

Officials also witnessed a phenomenon called “volcanic glow”, in which the air above a volcano appears red due to the light from magma and lava rock beneath it.

ORIGINAL STORY: Monday August 17th, 2:25PM CST

Japan’s most active volcano, Sakurajima, may be headed to an eruption on a scale not seen in about 100 years—only potentially more deadly, as a nuclear power plant rests only 31 miles away.

On Saturday, increasing tectonic movements and rising magma for Sakurajima Volcano caused the Japan Meteorological Agency to raise the alert level from a 3 (“Do not approach the volcano”) to a 4 (“Prepare to evacuate”). Level 4 is the second highest level and the highest ever for the Sakurajima since their alert system was launched—indicating a major eruption might be imminent.

“The possibility for a large-scale eruption has become extremely high for Sakurajima,” the agency announced. “There is the danger that stones could rain down on areas near the mountain’s base, so we are warning residents of those areas to be ready to evacuate if needed.”

About 4,000 people live on the same island as the volcano; the 77 who are the most endangered were advised to evacuate on Saturday. Besides dangers associated with living on the island, a city two and a half miles away of about 600,000—Kagoshima, the capital of its prefecture—could be impacted as well, but most likely by ash. Most alarmingly, the Sendai nuclear power plant may need to be evacuated, as it could be struck by a tsunami caused by an eruption—a horrible mirror of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.

Remaining on alert

As of Monday, the volcano has seemed to have quieted down, but the agency has not lowered the warning level.

“We need to remain on alert because it is not known when magma will start to rise again and when a major eruption will occur as a result,” said Takeshi Koizumi, senior coordinator for volcanic disaster mitigation at the agency.

Those who live on the island were told Sunday night their evacuation may last a week or longer, and officials will continue their close monitoring of the volcano for at least two weeks.

The volcano can be watched live through a number of webcams, and the list can be found here through Wired.

(Image credit: Thinkstock)