Rescuers rush to reach dozens trapped on erupting Japan volcano
Rescuers rushed on Sunday (Sept 28) to help dozens of hikers stranded on an erupting volcano in central Japan with six people believed to be buried under ash and dozens injured.
Columns of thick white steam were seen rising from the 3,067-metre Mount Ontake, which erupted around noon on Saturday, spewing ash, rocks and steam on a sunny autumn weekend busy with tourists and hikers.
Seven people were unconscious and buried under ash, national broadcaster NHK said.
One of them was rescued but the others remained on the mountain, NHK said, adding that a total of 42 people are believed to have suffered injuries.
Local media on Saturday reported that a person died, but firefighters said the death has not been confirmed.
A suffocating blanket of ash up to 20 centimetres (eight inches) deep covered a large area of the volcano, trapping climbers and forcing up to 150 to seek refuge in mountaintop shelters at one point.
A screengrab from a video taken by a hiker moments after Mount Ontake erupted. Photo: YouTube user kerudo terutoshi
Local officials believe 45 to 49 hikers sheltered overnight in cabins on the popular mountain, although details remained unclear.
A group of 23 hikers who spent the night in a cabin on Sunday were able to climb down to reach the start of a trail leading to the summit.
A Self Defence Force helicopter rescued a man and a woman near the summit, according to a spokesman at Otaki village, Nagano prefecture.
Some 230 hikers were able to make it to safe ground on Saturday after the eruption.
Ariel television footage showed a line of rescue workers, wearing orange uniforms or green camouflage, scaling grey, ash-covered trails Sunday.
Rescue workers and Self Defence Force soldiers searching for missing climbers and survivors
on the top of Mount Ontake. Photo: AFP
The meteorological agency forecast further eruptions, warning that volcanic debris may settle within four kilometres (2.5 miles) of the peak.
The agency also placed restrictions on access to the mountain, while calling on local residents to remain alert as an eruption could shatter windows miles away.
The last significant eruption of Mount Ontake, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures in the centre of the country, was in 1979 when it expelled more than 200,000 tonnes of ash, according to local media.