Japan's Mount Ontake volcano suddenly erupted shortly before noon local time today (03:00 UTC) spewing ash high into the sky and down the mountains' slope for more than 3 km. Tokyo VAAC reported ash plume rising up to 11 km (37 000 feet) and drifting East at 03:02 UTC.
Minoru Kashiwabara, Nagano prefecture crisis management official, said more than 250 people were trapped on the mountain and a nearby peak in areas that were dangerous to approach, though some had decided to try making their way down as sunset approached.
At least 40 people were severely injured. The eruption might have caused more than 30 fatalities, Japanese press reports.
One witness told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that the eruption started with large booms that sounded like thunder.
Mikio Oguro, an NHK journalist who was on the slope on an unrelated assignment, told the station that he saw massive smoke coming out of the crater, blocking sunlight and reducing visibility to zero. "Massive ash suddenly fell and the entire area was totally covered with ash," he said by phone. He and his crew had to use headlights to find a lodge to take refuge. "My colleagues later told me that they thought they might die," Mr Oguro said. (DailyMail)
Japan's Meteorological Agency declared a level 3 volcano alert on a 1 to 5 scale and warned that the debris from the volcano could fall as far as 4 kilometers away.
People are advised to stay away from the mountain.
Mount Ontake last erupted 7 years ago.
Update, September 28:
Yesterday's eruption might have caused more than 30 fatalities, Japanese press reports. Most of them were apparently killed by heart and respiratory failure after inhaling ash when caught in the outer areas of a pyroclastic flow or ash cloud descending the mountain. (VD)
At least 40 people were severely injured and 250 climbers were initially left stranded on the mountain.
AP reported that 7 people were rescued by helicopter. Rescue operations are in full swing on Japan's second highest mountain.
About 50 cm of ash have been deposited near the summit and up to 20 cm in lower areas.
Video courtesy: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Chūbu Regional Development Bureau.
Update, September 30:
Five more bodies were found near the peak of an erupting Japanese volcano on Monday, as rescuers suspended their search because of the growing danger from toxic gas.
The grim discovery takes to at least 36 the total number of people feared to have died when Mount Ontake erupted without warning during a busy hiking weekend. (TerraDaily)