At least 12 people were injured, some critically, when rocks from an erupting volcano rained down on skiers at a mountain resort in central Japan and an avalanche soon after the eruption engulfed about a dozen skiers.
- Japanese media report at least 12 people injured
- Unclear whether avalanche caused by volcanic activity, both occurred nearly simultaneously
- One person trapped in avalanche before being dug out by rescuers
Japanese media reported at least 12 people were injured, many apparently hit by volcanic rocks.
Two were critically injured and three suffered serious injuries, national broadcaster NHK said.
Six of those trapped were members of Japan's Ground Self Defence Force (SDF) engaged in training manoeuvres, the Defence Ministry said.
All six were rescued but some were injured, it said.
One person was trapped in the avalanche for some time before being dug out by rescuers, who included SDF members.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Government was still gathering information on the avalanche.
"Having received information from the site that an avalanche happened and struck some people and plumes were rising, we're currently gathering information at the Government's crisis management centre," he told a news conference.
More searchers, including SDF members, were heading to the site near the hot springs resort town of Kusatsu to look for the missing skier as heavy snow fell.
Kusatsu-Shirane, a 2,160-metre volcano, appeared to have erupted on Tuesday morning, the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency warned rocks could be thrown as far as two kilometres from the peak.
'There was this huge boom'
Video footage from the top of the resort's gondola showed black rocks plummeting through the sky, followed by a curtain of black smoke.
"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 on national broadcaster NHK showed a gondola with a shattered window. At least several of the injuries were due to broken glass.
"Several other people appeared to be hurt by the stones, which appeared to be around 10-to-20 centimetres in size," another skier told NHK.
The resort temporarily lost power, leaving a number of skiers suspended in gondolas for about half an hour until they resumed moving.
About 80 skiers were awaiting rescue at a hut on the top of the mountain.
It was unclear whether the avalanche was caused by the volcanic activity, but they occurred nearly simultaneously.
"Based on various measurements, we can say that the mountain appears to have erupted, but we are still trying to confirm facts on the ground," a JMA official said.
The warning level for the peak was raised to 3, warning people not to climb the mountain.
Four people riding a gondola on the slopes were injured by broken glass, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, but he had no further details.
Japan has 110 active volcanoes and monitors 47 of them around the clock.
In September 2014, 63 people were killed on Mount Ontake, the worst volcanic disaster in Japan for nearly 90 years.