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Japan’s Sakurajima volcano erupts for 500th time this year, covering city of Kagoshima in ash

One of Japan’s most active volcanoes, Mout Sakurajima, erupted Sunday afternoon (Aug. 18) for the 500th time this year, sending a record-setting plume of ash three miles (five kilometers) into the sky. It was reportedly the highest plume seen by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) since it started keeping records in 2006. Following the explosion, residents of Kagoshima–located on the southwestern tip of the island of Kyushu–wore masks as they got to work Monday washing away a layer ash that the volcano dumped on city streets. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, officials said.

Mount Sakurajima, which has an altitude of 3,664 feet (1,117 meters), has been erupting almost continually since 2012. It is located in the 12-mile-wide Aira caldera, which was formed as a result of a gigantic eruption 22,000 years ago. Its volcanic activity has been recorded since 963 AD, with its biggest eruption occurring in 1914–the most powerful in 20th century Japan. The volcano is closely monitored by Kagoshima Local Meteorological Observatory in conjunction with Japan’s Volcano Observations and Information Center.

According to the Local Meteorological Observatory, eruptions are ongoing and residents within two kilometers of the volcano have been warned to avoid the rapidly moving hot gas and rock, known as pyroclastic flow, coming from the volcano’s Showa crater. Officials also have cautioned people about the continuing fall of volcanic ash and gravel in low-lying areas and possible accumulations of mud in the event of rainfall.

Recent volcanic explosions have been averaging about two to three over the past week and, officials say, are likely to continue. Sunday’s eruption was the 500th in 2013 alone. However, the JMA says there are no indications a larger eruption is in the forecast. Typically, Sakurajima produces minor eruptions numbering several thousand a year.

Japan sits on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” the horseshoe-shaped band of seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean. The Ring of Fire, caused by the movement and collisions of tectonic plates, has 452 volcanoes. More than 80 percent of the world’s largest earthquakes occur in this region.