Japanese Volcano Mount Ontake Erupts, Trapping Dozens Of Hikers

The formerly inactive volcano Mount Ontake erupted in Japan on Saturday, killing at least one person and injuring dozens of others. The eruption reportedly sent clouds of smoke into the sky and poured ash and debris down the sides of the massive volcano, which is located between Npagano and Gifu in central Japan. According to BBC News, the ash has trapped at least 40 hikers who have yet to be rescued.

As the second-highest volcano in Japan, Mount Ontake is popular among hikers, especially in the fall.The volcano erupted around midday on Saturday, when there were already hundreds of climbers on the mountain. The volcano continued to erupt well into the night.

BBC News reports that 30 people were critically injured in the eruption, with more than 10 remaining unconscious, according to local police. Although about 230 people were able to flee the mountain, dozens of climbers remain stranded in lodges on the summit. Three missing people are believed to be buried under ash and debris.

According to Reuters, the 40 hikers that are currently trapped on the mountain will attempt to descend on Sunday. In the meantime, Nagano police have dispatched about 80 officers to help the stranded hikers. The nearby Kiso Prefectural Hospital also has a medical team ready for those who need help. "We expect a lot of injured people so we are now getting ready for their arrival," a hospital official told Reuters.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Saturday that the Japanese military will also participate in the rescue and recovery missions. "I instructed to do all we can to rescue the people affected and secure the safety of the trekkers," the prime minister said.

Witnesses to the eruption described a frightening scene as ash and stones poured down the area. One woman told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the eruption was "like thunder." She described hearing powerful booms before "everything went dark."

The Japanese Meteorological Agency heightened the volcano alert to level three on Saturday, which means people should stay away from Mount Ontake. However, an evacuation warning or order has not been put into effect. According to local media reports, most residents living near the volcano are remaining in their homes for the time being.

With an elevation of more than 10,000 feet, Mount Ontake was long thought to be an inactive volcano, until it erupted in 1979. Since then, the massive volcano has erupted several times. The last eruption occurred in 2007, and no deaths were reported then.

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