Okinawa school suspends classes after smoke wafts in from exercise
KADENA, Okinawa — A Japanese high school located near the Kadena Ammunition Storage Area suspended classes Friday morning after students complained of eye irritation from smoke wafting from the U.S. base.
“About 200 students were taking an early- morning class when smoke came into the classrooms,” said Takashi Hanashiro of the Kadena Town Military Liaison Office. “Some students complained hard of breathing, while others suffered from irritation of throats and eyes.”
He said the students reported hearing about two dozen pops “like firecrackers” go off just after 7 a.m. and the smoke reached the school about 7:30 a.m.
Capt. Carlos Diaz, an 18th Wing spokesman, said the smoke came from ground-burst simulators used in a combat base recovery exercise.
“But there was an uncommon weather inversion — cold weather in the lower atmosphere topped by warmer weather — that did not allow the smoke to dissipate the way it’s supposed to,” Diaz said. “The smoke is not toxic, but once we were informed of the problems at the school we agreed to not use smoke for the remainder of the exercise.”
Hisanori Chibana, assistant principal of Okinawa Prefectural Kadena High School, said the school is located 300 to 400 meters (984 to 1,312 feet) from the fence line of the ammunition storage area.
“There is usually training there about once a month and each time we are notified in advance,” he said. “So, the students expected some noise and smoke. But this time the smoke remained on the school grounds for an extended time due to various weather conditions. With no breeze or wind, the reddish, mist-like smoke covered the school building for about 40 minutes.
“Some of the students started coughing, while others complained the smoke irritated their eyes and throats.”
Chibana said the smoke covered only the third floor of the school and that two college preparatory classes were cancelled, affecting 80 students.