Japan’s volcanic Mount Aso has started erupting, throwing up plumes of smoke and blasting ash kilometres into the sky.
No immediate injuries, casualties or damage have been reported so far from the eruption that occurred at around 11.43am (JST), according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. A warning for lava flow in the area has been issued by authorities.
The volcano, said to be one of the largest in the world, blasted plumes of ash as high as 3.5km (2.2 miles).
The 1,592m mountain is a prominent tourist destination and is said to be the largest active volcano in the island country. It has a circumference of 120km (75 miles).
Authorities have increased the alert level of volcanic activity to three from a total five and have urged people not to head to the affected area, including the town of Takamori and Minami-Aso village.
Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida has instructed the federal administration to prioritise protecting human life amid the volcanic eruption.
There is a risk of large rocks falling from the mountain and pyroclastic flows of lava up to a 1km radius around the mountain’s Nakadake crater.
Officials are still working to check if there were climbers on the slopes at the time of eruption, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said in Tokyo.
Preliminary visuals from nearby inhabited areas shared on social media showed the extent of the volcanic eruption. In one video, a thick black cloud could be seen surrounding the mountain and slowly spreading.
Residual ash falls in nearby towns are expected to occur until late afternoon, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Several countries like Canada and Australia issued warnings for citizens who could possibly be present at the tourist spot and asked them to monitor local news updates.
Mount Aso is prone to eruptions, with similar volcanic activity witnessed in 2019. In the worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years, an eruption of the country’s Mount Ontake led to at least 63 people dying in September 2014.