The age old adage home is where the heart is finds its true meaning in Miyakejima, a small island located in southeast Japan. Despite the high level of volcanic activity that causes poisonous gas to leak from the earth that forced the 3,600 island residents to evacuate in 2000, the citizens just won’t stay away. Thus, the self-appointed gas mask town rose from the, very literal, ashes.
Resting atop a chain of volcanoes, Miyakejima is a hub for volcanic activity. For the past century, the volcanoes have erupted six times. The worst of these occurred in June 2000 when, after a repose interval of 17 years, Mount Oyama erupted. The eruption was proceeded by 17,500 (yes, 17 thousand) earthquakes, which hit the island between June 26 and July 21.
During the assault of eruptions and earthquakes, Miyakejima was enveloped in ash plumes reaching 10 miles in height, pyroclastic flow (fast flow of superheated gas), and heavy ash fall alongside crater collapses. The disaster also led to high levels of toxic sulfur dioxide regularly leaking up through the ground, making 20% of the land uninhabitable. After three months, the government took action and forced a mass evacuation in September.