Japan’s Ontake volcano erupts, spews 6-mile-high ash cloud

According to Japans’ Meteorological Agency, the Ontake-san volcano from Mount Sakurajima, in Kagoshima, Japan – on the border of Nagano and Gifu, about 200 kilometers west of Tokyo — spewed a 6-mile-high burst of ash after erupting early today, covering the ground with 17 to 20 inches (40 to 50 cm) of volcanic ash.

Ash clouds have landed down the mountain’s slope for more than 3 kilometers.

Local Japanese health officials say at least 70 people have been injured, 30 of which have been sent to hospital in critical condition, while one person is reported to have been killed from the eruption.

The volcano took hikers by surprise stranding about 250 of them near the top of the mountain. One hiker was rescued unconscious after being buried in volcanic ash.

Airplanes continue to be diverted away from the dangerous area.

One local eyewitness said she saw rocks being flung into the air with the ash. “It was like thunder. I heard boom, boom – then everything went dark.”

Local residents were given a level 3 volcano alert by Japan’s Meteorological Agency; a 3 alert on a scale of 1 to 5 as they were warned volcanic debris could be thrown as far as 4 kilometers away. Such an alert advises everyone to stay away from the mountain area.

Stratovolcano Ontake (Ontake-san) is the second highest volcano in Japan at 3,067 meters. It is also a popular destination for religious pilgrimages. The volcano remained inactive until 1979 when it underwent a small series of eruptions. Before today, the last volcanic activity on the mountain was recorded in 2007.