A Japanese soldier was killed yesterday after a volcano erupted near a popular Japanese ski resort, sparking an avalanche that left several injured and scores stranded up a mountain, officials said.
Footage broadcast on Japanese television showed thick black smoke interspersed with falling rocks rolling down the snow-covered side of the volcano towards a ski slope.
Japanese Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera told reporters that one of eight members of the Japan Self Defence Forces who had been on a training mission on Mount Kusatsu Shirane, northwest of Tokyo, had died after being hit by volcanic rocks.
Photo: AFP / Kusatsu Town Office
“His lungs were damaged” because of the impact of the rocks, Onodera said, adding that the other soldiers had sustained injuries.
The falling rocks kicked clouds of snow into the air as they made impact.
“Black smoke rose from the top of the mountain and we were told to evacuate inside 30 minutes later,” a man who was at the ski resort told the Japan Broadcasting Corp (NHK).
“About 100 people have been evacuated,” he said.
A local town official said that a total of 78 people were stranded at a gondola station at the top of the mountain after a power outage.
Television footage showed military helicopters buzzing overhead as people were airlifted to safety.
Yuko Iguchi, an official from the nearby town Kusatsu said: “All the people stranded at the summit were brought down to the safe zone. We have not received any injured people among them.”
Another local official, Yoichi Takai, said that “15 people from Taiwan and four from Britain were among those who were stranded at the peak.”
A woman who was stranded at the ropeway station, but later rescued, told Japanese TV: “There was an eruption in front of my eyes. Black and white plumes came towards me. Then the ski slope went completely black.”
A snowboarder told NHK his gondola had stopped suddenly and he saw that other gondolas around him had broken windows and were covered in ash.
“I realized it was an eruption. Forty to 50 minutes later, all the gondolas moved up to the station on the top of the mountain,” he said.
The area had seen heavy snowfall in the hours leading up to the eruption, making the slopes ripe for avalanches.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency urged people to stay away after it detected what it said was “slight volcanic activity.”
The volcano could still spew more rocks and ash, and that there was a risk of further avalanches, agency official Makoto Saito told reporters.
A local fire department official said that five of the injured were seriously injured.
Among the injured were four people hurt by shattered glass while on a ropeway gondola at the ski resort in Gunma.
According to the Meteorological Agency, this was the first time Kusatsu Shirane has erupted since 1983.
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