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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Base residents awoke Monday to a layer of fine grayish ash from a nearby volcano covering streets, buildings and vehicles.

The talcum-like powder was spewed from Mount Asama, about 65 miles northwest of the base, according to base officials.

"Due to prevailing winds at the time, the base received a light coating of ash from the eruption," said Col. Jeff Newell, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, in an e-mail sent the community Monday morning.

Residents were told the ash was not toxic and posed no health risk, but people with chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma were advised to stay inside and avoid unnecessary exposure.

Department of Defense Dependent Schools on base were ordered closed for the day, but all other base operations carried on as usual, according to school and base officials. Airmen were permitted to wear their utility uniforms instead of the blues typically required on Mondays.

Bruce Derr, superintendent of DODDS Japan, said he received notification early Monday morning from base officials about the ash. He said that for health and safety concerns for the children, the decision was made to close Yokota schools. He added that he expected the schools to reopen on Tuesday unless there was another eruption.

Schools on other Kanto Plain bases were unaffected by the volcano and remained open, Derr said.

"Again, we believe that the impact to the (Yokota) population from this eruption is minimal, but we have decided to err on the side of caution," Newell said.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency on Sunday had warned of an eruption within two days, according to Reuters news service. The eruption occurred about 1:51 a.m. Monday, belching ash thousands of feet in the air, according to a JMA volcanic ash advisory.

Mount Asama, a 8,425-foot peak, is one of the more active volcanoes in Japan, with its last major eruption taking place in 2004, said Newell. An eruption in 1782 reportedly killed 1,500 people.

"Mount Asama is still considered to be in an active eruption, and the base will be poised to react should the risk from ash increase over the next 48 hours," Newell said.

Asama’s was one of three volcanic eruptions Monday that JMA officials were monitoring on the western Pacific Rim of Fire, so called for its frequent tectonic activity. The other eruptions were at Mount Sakurajima in southern Japan, and the Karymsky volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia.

Across the Bering Sea on the eastern Pacific Rim in Alaska, geologists were monitoring activity in Redoubt that often foreshadows an eruption.


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