Subj: Earthquakes, eruptions give Japan the jitters
Date: 8/12/00 1:17:25 PM Pacific Daylight Time
From: (New Millennium)
To: (Newmill)

Earthquakes, eruptions give Japan the jitters

TOKYO (August 11, 2000 12:05 p.m. EDT - Will
Japan survive the summer? For more than a month, daily earthquake
bulletins have flashed across TV screens, sometimes every half hour.
Several quakes have been so strong that national broadcaster NHK has
thrown out normal programming and switched to emergency warning mode.

Moreover, three volcanoes have belched large eruptions in the past four

Although Japan is one of the world's most earthquake- and eruption-prone
countries, a flurry of extraordinary activity lately is fraying the

Japan's jitters continued Thursday, as a volcano on an island off Tokyo
erupted for the fourth time in a month, sending black ash into the sky
and forcing the evacuation of more than 600 residents.

The eruption of Mount Oyama on Miyakejima, a small resort island with a
population of 4,000, was its biggest since 1990.

It was not unexpected.

Over the past two months, seismographs on Miyakejima and other islands
in the Izu chain have recorded tens of thousands of earthquakes believed
to be the result of shifts in huge underground pools of magma.

Nearly 12,000 of the quakes have been strong enough to be felt, and some
have even swayed buildings in Tokyo and neighboring Yokohama, 120
miles away.

The strong quakes automatically send Japan's emergency warning system
into motion, resulting in news flashes and cautions of possible
quake-caused tidal waves.

Scientists believe the activity in Izu will continue, but admit they are
having trouble predicting what will happen.

"We expect the same level of activity to continue," said Yoshifumi Niide
of the Central Meteorological Agency. "But prediction regarding
volcanoes is

To the legions of nervous Japanese seeking reassurance, that's not much

"I get worried that an earthquake will hit Tokyo, too," said Yoshiko
Matsubara, a 65-year-old Tokyo housewife. "I will never get used to
those bulletins on the TV."

Though damage and casualties have so far been surprisingly light - one
person has died - the Izu activity is just the latest in what has been a
very seismic year for Japan.

When the Mount Usu volcano in northern Japan erupted in March and April
for the first time in 22 years, 13,000 people were ordered to evacuate.
Two months later, Sakurajima, a constantly sputtering volcano in
southern Japan, exploded with four large eruptions in one day.

Last month, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit the central Japan province of
Ibaraki and a magnitude 7.3 offshore quake stopped bullet trains
southwest of Tokyo over the weekend.

According to experts, the current activity is not necessarily an omen of
some bigger disaster - which in Japan usually means a catastrophic quake
in Tokyo - in the immediate future.

"There is no correlation," said Kazuo Oike, a professor and earthquake
expert at Kyoto University.

But he added that doesn't mean there's nothing for the 20 million people
living in the greater Tokyo area to be worried about.

"That's an area where you always have to watch out," he said. "Anything
could happen there."

Japan's capital has repeatedly been devastated by earthquakes.

Quakes ravaged the city in 1703, 1782 and 1812. In 1855, 7,000 people
were killed. The latest disaster, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and
the fires that it touched off, killed more than 100,000 people and left
an estimated 1.6 million people homeless.

Most experts agree that, based on historical cycles, Tokyo is now
overdue for another big quake. A government report released last year
that about 7,100 people would likely die and 500,000 homes be destroyed
if a magnitude 7 quake hit the city today.

Amid all the jolts and jitters, memories of the quake that flattened the
port city of Kobe just five years ago remain vivid. More than 6,000
people were killed in the devastation.

"I worry what would happen to us if a quake hits here," said Yoko
Nagase, a housewife in a Tokyo suburb. "I worry about my insurance, if I
increase my earthquake coverage."