A huge cloud of rolling ash and dust poured down the side of Mount Ontake in central Japan on Saturday, as the volcano erupted and coated the surrounding area in ash. The sudden eruption initially stranded more than 250 hikers; one of them managed to shoot video of the shocking sight of an immense billowing gray cloud speeding toward them.
Dozens of people are reportedly injured and at least seven are missing on the mountain, whose summit is around 10,000 feet. This is a busy time of year on Mount Ontake, where a relatively gentle slope and mountainside lodges draw visitors who want to take in views of the fall foliage.
Update at 12:15 and 7:15 p.m. ET: Hundreds Reach Safety, One Killed
"Police say about 230 people have since descended the volcano, while 41 people remain on the mountain, including injured climbers waiting to be rescued."
That's the word from Japan's NHK News, which says the eruption seriously injured more than 30 people. The agency also says more than 10 people who were rescued remain unconscious.
One hiker was killed, Reuters reports.
Our original post continues:
The eruption began just before noon local time. In an instant, it changed the hikers' sunny day on the mountain into a scramble for someplace to take shelter from the oncoming rush of ash and small rocks on Mount Ontake's craggy surface. Before-and-after photos of the scene are striking, as a landscape that had included bursts of green vegetation and brown dirt looks as if it has been blasted by snow.
Saying all attempts will be made to rescue those trapped on the mountain, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says nearly 200 people are now trying to come down the mountain, reports national NHK TV.
But rescue efforts are being hampered by concerns about the ash's effects on helicopters. Air traffic has been rerouted around the area, and people nearby are being told to stay inside. Mount Ontake straddles two of Japan's prefectures, Nagano and Gifu.
From Tokyo, John Matthews reports for NPR:
"Local police are advising residents and hikers to stay away from newly erupted Mount Ontake, saying large debris could fall up to 2 1/2 miles away.
"Japan's meteorological agency predicts further eruptions and warns area residents that major eruptions may carry enough pressure to shatter windows in their homes. Today's eruption is the first from Mount Ontake in seven years."
Citing rescue officials, Japan's Kyodo News says at least four people were buried in ash and several people lost consciousness on the mountain.
Witnesses' accounts were relayed by Japan Times:
" 'I escaped with my bare life,' a local resident told NHK. 'Immediately after I watched the eruption, I rushed away but I was soon covered with ash, which piled up to some 20 cm (nearly 8 inches).' "
" 'It was like thunder,' a woman interviewed by NHK said. 'I heard "boom, boom," then everything went dark.' "
Video shot from the base of the mountain shows the speed with which the large clouds of ash moved, startling those below.