A volcano in central Japan has erupted, leaving over 250 people stranded and up to 32 people seriously injured. The eruption of the 3,067-meter-high Mount Ontake took climbers by surprise.
Mount Ontake took mountain climbers by surprise on Saturday when it erupted and covered the area in up to 20 centimeters of ash, according to media reports.
Rescue workers were inhibited by the ash and tried to reach the stranded lodgers on foot because conditions were too dangerous for helicopters.
Over 200 people managed to reach the foot of the mountain, Reuters news agency reported, but around 40 were still trapped at the summit and would spend the night in shelters.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported that 32 people had been seriously injured.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the military to rescue the trapped hikers. Authorities have restricted entry to hiking paths.
Abe orders rescue attempts
"We have confirmed that there have been injuries," Abe told reporters. "I ordered (government officials) to do their best to secure the safety of mountain climbers."
The Japan Meterological Agency recorded volcanic plum on the southern slope of the 3,067-meter mountain, stretching more than three kilometers and rising up to one kilometer high.
The agency forecast further eruptions and warned that debris could settle within a four-kilometer radius.
Saturday hike turns dark
Eyewitnesses told media there had been a sudden, loud thunder-like explosion and that the sky turned dark, leaving no visibility on what had been a clear Saturday noon.
Ash, rocks and steam continued to spew from the volcano nine hours later.
The last major eruption of Mount Ontake, which lies between the Nagano and Gifu prefectures in central Japan, occurred in 1979.
sb/ipj (Reuters, AFP, AP)