NAGANO, Japan - Mt. Ontake erupted just before noon Saturday for the first time in seven years, injuring about a dozen people seriously, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency and local authorities.
The eruption took place at 11:53 a.m. on the 3,067-meter volcano straddling the border between Gifu and Nagano prefectures. As a result, the five-stage volcanic eruption warning level was raised from the lowest 1 to 3, which means climbers are restricted from entering the mountain area. Communities around the mountain have also been warned to be alert against further volcanic activity.
The central government set up a liaison office at its Crisis Management Center in Tokyo on Saturday.
"I have instructed them to do the utmost to secure the safety of climbers and confirm how much damage has been done," Prime Minister Shizo Abe told reporters in the evening. He also revealed that he had ordered the dispatch of the Self-Defence Forces to deal with the situation.
The autumn foliage season has started and, according to the Nagano Prefecture government, about 250 climbers were on the slopes of the mountain at the time of the eruption.
The Nagano Local Meteorological Observatory said volcanic smoke was filmed billowing down the south slope of the mountain by a camera installed at Takigoshi, a district in Otaki in the prefecture, by the Chubu Regional Development Bureau.
After it was informed of the eruption just before noon by the agency, the village government of Otaki, located on the south side of the volcano, set up a headquarters to deal with the situation. The headquarters imposed traffic restrictions on roads into the village and parking lots near mountain trails. It also began gathering information about the scope of the eruption.
According to an Otaki official, no volcanic smoke or sounds of explosions were confirmed at the village hall, which is 12 kilometers from the mountain's peak. The village was trying to confirm a report that the roof of a mountain hut was destroyed in the eruption.
The agency warned about the possibility of sizable volcanic rocks falling on areas within about four kilometers from the volcanic crater on the peak, as well as volcanic tremors shattering window panes.
On Sept. 11, the agency announced that there was an increase in the number of volcanic temblors that could not be felt by people, showing that Mt. Ontake's volcanic activity had slightly increased.