TOKYO – A soldier died and at least 10 people were injured on Tuesday at a ski resort in central Japan following a volcanic eruption nearby and a near-simultaneous avalanche, according to authorities.
At around 10:25 am, an eruption of Mount Kusatsu Shirane, located in Gunma Prefecture (north of Tokyo), was registered, triggering an avalanche at the nearby Kusatsu ski resort, the Japan Meteorological Agency explained at a press conference.
Six Japan Self-Defense Forces (military) members who had been conducting a drill were trapped by the avalanche, according to the Ministry of Defense.
A member of the Forces was killed, while the others were injured and have been rescued.
At least eight people who had sought refuge in the shelters at the resort or were in ski lifts at the time of the avalanche were injured by rocks hurled by the eruption, and five of them have been in serious condition, reported Japanese broadcaster NHK.
The JMA detected smoke being emitted by the volcano early on Tuesday and small volcanic tremors, but did not activate the eruption alert on time.
The regional government said rocks and other residues spouted by the volcano flew more than 1 kilometer (0.6 mile), causing damages to buildings and cable cars at the resort.
Videos taken by the local tourism office show a column of smoke and ash above the volcano, as well as rocks hurled by the eruption.
Around 100 skiers were at the resort when the disaster struck and the majority of whom who had sought refuge at a building damaged by the avalanche and the eruption were evacuated.
The JMA has elevated the volcano alert level from 2 to 3, banning approaching the volcano.
The government has convened an emergency meeting and coordinated rescue, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference, and regional authorities have requested help from the Self-Defense Forces in the rescue mission.