Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered Japan’s military to mount a rescue operation after an eruption of the nation’s second-highest volcano injured dozens of hikers and left hundreds descending through darkness or sheltering in mountain huts.
One woman died in the eruption, public broadcaster NHK reported, citing local fire officials. More than 70 people were receiving medical treatment, with 32 of them seriously injured and 10 of those unresponsive, as people coated with volcanic ash continued to arrive near the base of 3,067-meter (10,100-foot) Mt. Ontake in central Japan. About 230 had made it to the bottom of the volcanic peak, where eruptions of ash, rocks and smoke continued, as of 8:30 p.m. local time yesterday, NHK said.
“There appear to be many injured,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a televised press conference earlier in the evening. “The government is still confirming how many people are trapped on the mountain.”
At least seven people were buried in ash from the eruption, only one of whom has been found and was unresponsive, according to a report on the Cabinet office website. Among the injured were five with broken bones, while the condition of others was undetermined, the report indicated.
About 200 people took shelter at a lodge near the summit of the volcano after the eruption, the first in seven years, NHK said earlier, citing telephone contact with those at the lodge. Conditions were too dangerous for anyone to leave the lodge to try to assist people who could be seen collapsed along trails on the mountain, according to that report.
There were more than 40 people still on the mountain when rescue operations were suspended for the night, with more than 30 people seriously hurt, including 16 who have lost consciousness, Kyodo News reported, citing unidentified officials from Nagano Prefecture. The volcano is still erupting and it’s unclear whether rescuers will be able to resume operations later today, according to the report.
NHK reported flights arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport yesterday evening were expected to be delayed by as much as an hour because of the plume of ash and smoke spreading from the volcano, located about 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of the city. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued a warning against approaching the area shortly before Mt. Ontake began erupting.
Japan lies on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines surrounding the Pacific Basin, and it sits at the three-way meeting point of the North American, Eurasian and Philippine Sea tectonic plates.
Mt. Ontake, which straddles the Nagano and Gifu prefectures, erupted most recently in March 2007, according to the weather agency, which warned on its website of volcanic-ash falls in Gifu, Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures.
Ontake is one of more than 100 active volcanoes in Japan, according to the website www.volcanodiscovery.com, which dates the mountain’s first recorded eruption to 1979, when ash fell as far as 150 kilometers away.
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