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Quakes shake up island’s economy

Isle south of Tokyo has been rumbling since June

SHARE Quakes shake up island’s economy

MIYAKEJIMA, Japan (AP) — Keiko Okinaka keeps a helmet and a packed bag by her bed at night, just in case the earth should begin to rumble again.

"I sleep with my clothes on so I can get up and run," said the 62-year-old resident of Miyakejima, an island off Japan's west coast that has been rocked by earthquakes, buffeted by a typhoon and seen its highest peak spit out volcanic ash in recent weeks.

Few on Miyakejima are strangers to the brutal forces of nature. The volcanic island has erupted several times in the past 60 years, including a 1940 blast that killed 11 people.

But ongoing tremors and worries about their effect on the economy have begun to wear on the island's 4,000 inhabitants. While past eruptions usually came and went in just days, the latest seismic activity began in June and has yet to show signs of letting up.

"It's major damage for our economy," said Natsumi Maeda, head of the village tourist office. "We don't even know whether the tourists will ever come back."

On Sunday, the area was jolted by a magnitude-6.1 earthquake that sent rocks and mud tumbling from cliffs, cracked roads and burst a water pipe. Most of the damage occurred on Kozushima, an island about 100 miles south of Tokyo and in the same chain as Miyakejima.

Mount Oyama, Miyakejima's highest peak, had coughed up a cloud of yellowish ash just hours before. The eruption, which showered cars, houses and streets with tiny stones, did not include lava flow, and officials said they did not plan to issue an evacuation order.

It was the second time the volcanic island erupted in recent weeks. In late June, magma moving beneath its rocky surface triggered an undersea explosion just off its western coast.

About 2,000 people were evacuated. The order was lifted after experts said magma was flowing away from the island under the seabed, lessening the chance of the volcano spewing lava onto populated areas.

Miyakejima and neighboring islands have since been rattled by tens of thousands of quakes, including about 3,500 strong enough to be felt, as part of the area's latest bout of volcanic activity. Fallen rocks killed a motorist in a magnitude-6.4 tremor on July 1.

In addition, a typhoon that left at least three dead elsewhere in Japan dumped torrential rain on Miyakejima last week.

Innkeeper Gentaro Kikuchi said the recent seismic activity has scared away many potential visitors to the lush green island, which is a haven for dolphin watchers, fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts. Travel agents have canceled many tours for the rest of the month, and most inns and hotels are almost empty.

Still, Kikuchi said he had no intention of closing down his inn and leaving.

"It's a beautiful island," he said. "I hope the volcano will quiet down soon."