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Japan's Shimabara marks 29th anniversary of 1991 volcanic disaster

People lay flowers at a monument in Shimabara, southwestern Japan, on June 3, 2020, as the city in Nagasaki Prefecture marks the 29th anniversary of a huge pyroclastic flow from Mt. Unzen's Fugen Peak which caused the deaths of 43 people. (Kyodo)

NAGASAKI (Japan) -- The city of Shimabara in Nagasaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan, on Wednesday commemorated the 43 victims of a massive pyroclastic flow that 29 years ago spewed from Mt. Unzen's Fugen Peak.

At a memorial service held on the foot of the mountain, bereaved family members, Shimabara city officials, police officers and Self-Defense Forces members laid flowers and offered prayers to the victims.

"Lessons learnt from the disaster have taken root in our hearts," said Shimabara Mayor Ryuzaburo Furukawa. "We need to pass on (the lessons) to people in the future."

The city and fire department set up a flower stand in a park housing a memorial for the disaster.

In the park, visitors had their temperatures checked at the entrance as a countermeasure against the novel coronavirus.

The Fugen Peak erupted on Nov. 17, 1990, for the first time in around 200 years and caused a huge pyroclastic flow, or a fast-moving current of superheated gas, ash and rock, at 4:08 p.m. on June 3, 1991, when the lava dome was breached.

The victims included reporters who continued working despite the evacuation order, taxi drivers, police officers, firefighters and local residents. An American volcanologist and a French volcanologist couple, were also killed.

Former Emperor Akihito and former Empress Michiko visited the disaster-hit area about a month after the catastrophe.

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