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Volcano erupts on Japanese island, evacuation ordered, airlines diverted


TOKYO - A volcano on the remote southern Japanese island of Kuchinoerabujima erupted suddenly on Friday, blasting plumes of black smoke high into the sky, prompting authorities to order the evacuation of the island's residents and forcing airlines to divert some flights.
 
A pyroclastic flow of super-heated gas and rock flowed down the side of the peak and reached the ocean after the "explosive" eruption, NHK said.
 
"There was a huge bang and black smoke rose up immediately," Nobuaki Hayashi, an island official, told NHK television.
 
There were no immediate reports of injuries to the roughly 140 residents, whose only access to the outside world is by boat.
 
A ferry was headed for the island, about 160 km (100 miles) south of Japan's southernmost island Kyushu, to evacuate residents and the national government had set up a disaster management office.
 
Japan's All Nippon Airways said it would divert some flights to Okinawa and Southeast Asia as a precaution, but didn't plan to cancel any flights. Japan Airlines (JAL) said it did not have any plans to change any of its flights.
 
It was not immediately clear if the eruption would affect the restart of Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear plant, which on Wednesday cleared the last step of the nuclear regulator's stringent safety hurdles introduced after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011. 
 
The company said an internal analysis showed the erupting volcano posed no risk to the Sendai plant on Kyushu island.
 
The volcano erupted last summer and the area where that pyroclastic flow occurred has been off limits, NHK said. The island is roughly 1,000 km (620 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
 
Japan is one of the world's most seismically active nations and there has been an upsurge in volcanic activity in recent weeks, with increasing volumes of steam blasting from a resort area not far from Tokyo and activity levels rising at a volcano in central Japan.
 
In September 2014, more than 60 people were killed when Mount Ontake in central Japan erupted without warning while packed with hikers. —Reuters
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