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A Japanese military helicopter rescued three people Sunday morning from a spectacular volcanic eruption that sent officials scrambling to reach many more injured and stranded on a mountain.
Mount Ontake in central Japan erupted shortly before noon Saturday, catching mountain climbers by surprise and injuring at least 34, including 12 seriously, according to Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The tally was lower than reported by local officials earlier, but the disaster agency warned that the numbers could still change. The number of those reported missing also rose sharply to 32, the agency said.
Nagano prefecture official Sohei Hanamura said that three people were rescued by a military helicopter. Their conditions were not known, he said, and it wasn't clear if they were part of an estimated 40 people stranded at mountain lodges. Many were injured and unable or unwilling to risk descending 3,067-meter (10,062-foot) Mount Ontake on their own.
Rescue workers were also trying to reach the area on foot Sunday morning, Hanamura said. Lodge managers are familiar with first aid procedures and were communicating with rescue officials in town, he said.
With a sound likened to thunder, the volcano erupted on a clear autumn day, spewing large white plumes of gas and ash high into the sky and blanketing the surrounding area in ash. Smaller eruptions continued overnight. About 250 people were initially trapped on the slopes, but most had made their way down by Saturday night, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported. Some were in shelters set up in four nearby towns.