Residents fled the sparsely populated Kuchinoerabu Island on Friday morning as a dormant volcano unexpectedly erupted, sending smoke and ash soaring into the sky.
Mount Shindake, the island’s main peak, produced a plume over six miles high and a flow of lava that reached the shoreline, Japan's Meteorological Agency said.
There was no warning whatsoever of the eruption.
“I heard a loud boom and when I looked at the mountains, I saw a gigantic plume rising above,” said a 64-year-old innkeeper who was in her garden at the time.
“I thought I’d be dead if I got caught in the cloud,” she said explaining why she ran to the shelter without any belongings. “There was an eruption last year, but this time the sound was really loud.”
All residents have been evacuated by ferry, coast guard ship and helicopter to neighboring Yakushima Island by Friday evening, and all were safe according to the Yakushima town office.
“I have instructed the relevant personnel to do all they can to ensure the safety of the islanders,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said to reporters.