“The original cone of the mountain,” he continues, “had been truncated at an acute angle to its axis. From our very feet a precipitous mud slope falls away for half a mile or more till it reaches the level. At our right, still below us, rises a mud wall a mile long, also sloping down to the level, and behind it is evidently the crater; but before us, for five miles in a straight line, and on each side nearly as far, is a sea of congealed mud, broken up into ripples and waves and great billows, and bearing upon its bosom a thousand huge boulders, weighing hundreds of tons apiece.”
On reaching the crater he found it to resemble a gigantic cauldron, fully a mile in width, and enclosed with precipitous walls of indurated mud. From several orifices volumes of steam rose into the air, and when the vapor cleared away for a moment glimpses of a mass of boiling mud were obtained. Before the eruption the mountain top had terminated in three peaks. Of these the highest had an elevation of about 5,800 feet. The peak destroyed was the middle one, which was rather smaller than the other two.
“The explosion was caused by steam; there was neither fire nor lava of any kind. It was, in fact, nothing more nor less than a gigantic boiler explosion. The whole top and one side of Sho-Bandai-san had been blown into the air in a lateral direction, and the earth of the mountain was converted by the escaping steam, at the moment of the explosion, into boiling mud, part of which was projected into the air to fall at a long distance, and then take the form of an overflowing river, which rushed with vast rapidity and covered the country to a depth of from 20 to 150 feet. Thirty square miles of country were thus devastated.”
In the devastated lowlands and buried villages below and on the slopes of the mountain many lives were lost. From the survivors Mr. Norman gathered some information, enabling him to describe the main features of the catastrophe. We append a brief outline of his narrative:
“At a few minutes past 8 o’clock in the morning a frightful noise was heard by the inhabitants of a village ten miles distant from the crater. Some of them instinctively took to flight, but before they could run much more than a hundred yards the light of day was suddenly changed into a darkness more intense than that of midnight; a shower of blinding hot ashes and sand poured down upon them; the ground was shaken with earthquakes, and explosion followed explosion, the last being the most violent of all. Many fugitives, as well as people in the houses, were overwhelmed by the deluge of mud, none of the fugitives, when overtaken by death, being more than two hundred yards from the village.” From the statements made by those fortunate enough to escape with their lives, and from a personal examination of the ground, Mr. Norman inferred that the mud must have been flung fully six miles through the air and then have poured in a torrent along the ground for four miles further. All this was done in less than five minutes, so that “millions of tons of boiling mud were hurled over the country at the rate of two miles a minute.”