Japan on alert after volcano's biggest eruption in 50 years
A one-mile cordon has been established around a volcano on Mount Kirishima after it erupted scattering rocks and ash across southern Japan and sending smoke billowing 5,000ft into the air.
The Meteorological Agency raised the volcanic alert to level 3 as ash today continued to spew from Shinmoedake on Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu, and residents have been banned from going within a mile of the volcano following its worst eruption in 50 years.
Force of nature: Lightning strikes as Shinmoedake erupts, scattering ash and rocks across a wide swathe of southern Japan
Ash and smoke continued to billow 5,000ft above Shinmoedake today as residents were banned from going within a mile of the volcano
Agency volcanologist Sei Iijima said the eruption did not pose a threat to nearby cities, and a major eruption was not imminent. But he added: 'You can never say never with a volcano, although the lack of magma movement beneath the surface leads us to believe that this activity won't lead to a large-scale eruption,' he told ABC News.
The volcano, one of 20 inside Mount Kirishima, began erupting around 7.30am yesterday morning and by 3pm heavy smoke had risen to nearly 5,000ft, prompting the meteorological agency to raise the alert level.
Volcanic activity is often reported at Kirishima, but this is the largest eruption recorded there since 1959.
Volcanic activity is often reported in the Kirishima range, but Shinmoedake's is the largest eruption since 1959
Under a cloud: A man takes a picture of erupting Shinmoedake from Takaharu, where an evacuation centre has been established
Air space above the mountain remained open today but airlines cancelled a number of domestic flights because of the haze and the buildup of ash on train tracks forced Japan Rail to close several lines. Roads were also shut because of poor visibility.
A small evacuation center was set up overnight in the town of Takaharu, seven miles east of Kirishima, and the town's general affairs manager Yuji Nakashima said: 'People told us their windows were rattling and they heard roaring sounds coming from the mountain.'