MAEBASHI: A Self-Defence Forces member died and a dozen other people were injured after a volcano erupted near a ski resort in Gunma Prefecture on Tuesday morning, spewing cinders and possibly causing an avalanche.
Stones from the eruption of Mount Kusatsu-Shirane hit a gondola lift and injured at least four people on board with shattered glass, according to local rescuers. The 9:59 a.m. eruption of the 2,171-metre mountain is the first since 1983, according to the Meteorological Agency.
The stones also crashed through the roof of a rest house where about 100 people had evacuated, the rescuers said.
Video footage from the top of the resort’s gondola showed skiers gliding down the slopes as black rocks plummeted from the skies and snow billowed up as they struck the ground, sometimes just missing skiers. A cloud of black smoke later drifted in.
“There was this huge boom, and a big plume of totally black smoke rose up,” one skier told NHK. “I had absolutely no idea what had happened.”
A photograph taken at the site and shown on NHK depicted a gondola with a shattered window. At least several of the injuries were due to broken glass.
“Other people appeared to be hurt by the stones, which appeared to be around 10 to 20 cm in size,” another skier told NHK.
Separately, the Ground Self-Defence Force said one of its members died and five others sustained broken bones and other injuries after being hit by an avalanche while training on skis. The GSDF rescued a civilian who was also engulfed by the avalanche, it said.
A police source said the number of injured totalled 12, with two of them in serious condition, adding they include GSDF members.
The prefectural government believes the avalanche is likely related to the eruption as it occurred shortly afterward.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said a power outage occurred near the ski resort after the eruption.
Following the eruption, the weather agency raised the volcanic alert status from 1 to 3 — on a scale of 5 — a level that restricts entry to the mountain, while warning of large amounts of ash in the area. It also urges the elderly, children and others in need of aid during evacuations to begin preparations to leave the area.
The agency said it could not raise the alert status earlier as it has not observed any data showing heightened volcanic activity prior to the eruption.
Plume conditions remain unknown due to bad weather, but the agency said it is unlikely that deposits of ash will reach the nearby Kusatsu hot spring resort and residential areas.
The central government has set up a liaison office at the Prime Minister’s Office to gather information on the eruption, while Gunma’s governor requested the dispatch of the GSDF.
Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, at a height of 2,160 metres, is located near the border of Gunma and Nagano prefectures and is one of 50 volcanic mountains continuously monitored by the Meteorological Agency.