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1 dead, several injured after volcano eruption, avalanche in eastern Japan

Volcanic smoke is seen rising from Mount Kusatsu-Shirane while rocks fall in this live camera image provided by the Kusatsu Onsen Tourist Association.
Mount Kusatsu-Shirane is seen in this image taken from a live camera.

KUSATSU, Gunma -- A Japanese Self-Defense Force member died and several others were injured following an eruption of the active volcano Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, and a subsequent avalanche at a ski resort here on Jan. 23, it has emerged.

    The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) observed large-amplitude volcanic tremors in the area and announced that Mount Kusatsu-Shirane had erupted at about 10 a.m. on Jan. 23 About 10 minutes later, an avalanche occurred at the nearby Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort. Police initially said that 12 people including several Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) members training in the area were injured. Some of the injuries appeared to have been caused by the avalanche, while others were apparently caused by volcanic rocks hitting the victims.

    Local firefighters said that the avalanche occurred near the Shimizusawa area of the ski field. A power cut hit the ski field the same morning.

    According to Japan's GSDF, members of the 12th Aviation Squadron of its 12th Brigade were doing ski training in the area at the time. One of them was later reported to have died.

    Shortly before 11 a.m., the governor of Gunma Prefecture asked the brigade to dispatch members for disaster assistance.

    According to the National Police Agency, two people apparently sustained light injuries while riding in a gondola lift.

    The JMA received a report that smoke was rising from Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, and when officials checked data, they confirmed a slope variation and large-amplitude volcanic tremors, leading them to conclude the volcano had erupted.

    Observations by the Tokyo Institute of Technology found that volcanic rocks had flown over 1 kilometer from the area around Kagami pond.

    Volcanic activity at Mount Kusatsu-Shirane has increased since 2014. Previously the volcanic alert level was 2 (do not approach the crater), but this was downgraded to level 1 (be mindful that the volcano is active) in June last year after the concentration of volcanic gas was declining. Agency officials said there were no signs this time that would have prompted them to raise the level again before the latest eruption. The agency raised the alert level back to 2 at 11:05 a.m. on Jan. 23, and then to level 3 (do not approach the mountain) 50 minutes later. Officials warned people to be on the alert for large falling rocks within a 2-kilometer radius of Kagami pond.

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