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Volcanic eruption in southwestern Japan coats nearby city with a layer of ash

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TOKYO - Residents in a southern Japanese city were busy washing ash off the streets Monday after a nearby volcano spewed a record-high smoke plume into the sky.

Ash wafted as high as 5 kilometres (3 miles) above the Sakurajima volcano in the southern city of Kagoshima on Sunday afternoon, forming its highest plume since the Japan Meteorological Agency started keeping records in 2006. Lava flowed about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) from the fissure, and several huge volcanic rocks rolled down the mountainside.

Though the eruption was more massive than usual, residents of the city of about 600,000 are used to hearing from their 1,117-meter (3,664-foot) neighbour. Kagoshima officials said in a statement that this was Sakurajima's 500th eruption this year alone.

Residents wore masks and raincoats and used umbrellas to shield themselves from the falling ash. Drivers turned on their headlights in the dull evening gloom, and railway service in the city was halted temporarily so ash could be removed from the tracks.

Officials said no injuries or damage was reported from the volcano, which is about 10 kilometres (6 miles) east of the city.

By Monday morning, the air was clearer as masked residents sprinkled water and swept up the ash. The city was mobilizing garbage trucks and water sprinklers to clean up.

"The smoke was a bit dramatic, but we are kind of used to it," said a city official who requested anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

JMA says there are no signs of a larger eruption but similar activity may continue. It was maintaining an earlier warning that people not venture near the volcano itself.

Japan is on the "Ring of Fire," the seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean, and has frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity.

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