- Title: JAPAN: Japan unprepared for Mount Fuji eruption, experts warn
- Date: 7th September 2012
- Summary: TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - 2009) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF MT FUJI AT SUNSET BEHIND TOKYO SKYLINE
- Embargoed: 22nd September 2012 13:00
- Location: Japan
- Country: Japan
- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes,Environment
- Reuters ID: LVA1SJF7IWSE7DPXRYZ7GIPQCQ6J
- Story Text: In the foothills of Mount Fuji, locals burn fires at a yearly festival to help calm the gods of the volcano.
But signs that Fuji might be close to erupting after a 300-year slumber have some experts worried that the government isn't doing enough to prepare.
"Historically, there are many examples where volcanoes have erupted following a Magnitude 9 earthquake nearby. That's what happened after the Kamchatka, Chile and Sumatra quakes. So in that sense, I think there's an increased chance of an eruption at Japanese volcanoes like Mt Fuji in the wake of last year's Magnitude 9 Tohoku earthquake," says Eisuke Fujita, the leading authority on volcanoes at Japan's National Research Institute For Earth Science And Disaster Prevention.
Scientists say an eruption at Mount Fuji could paralyse half the country, with ash raining down on Tokyo and leaving tens of millions stranded without power, running water or vital supplies for weeks.
Clumps of rocks and fine dust could surge up to 30 kilometres into the air for as long as three weeks, blanketing a swathe of land as far as Tokyo, 100 kilometres away.
Ash, lava and landslides would bring the bullet train and highway near Fuji to a standstill, and would ground flights for well over a month, much longer than airline delays experienced during the volcano eruptions in Iceland in 2010.
"The ash will create serious economic paralysis. In Europe, planes were grounded for about four days straight. But in the worst case here, even two weeks would be ambitious. If you add in the time it takes to clean up the ash from airports, then planes won't be able to take off or land for more than a month," former Meteorological Agency volcano expert, Toshitsugu Fujii, says.
In 2004 the government estimated that could cost the Japanese economy up to 32 billion dollars.
But experts now agree the real financial toll could be several times higher.
"The government should prepare for a logistical nightmare. It's not done anything on that yet. They'll have to know how many millions of people, including tourists, they'll need to evacuate from around Fuji," says Fujita. "They keep on saying they'll do something about that, but so far the country's failed to get its act together."
That doesn't stop thousands of tourists from ascending the slopes of Fuji every day during the summer months. Forty million tourists visited the region last year alone.
With a struggling economy that benefits from the tourism industry, government officials say they are wary of creating a panic with over preparedness.
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