A volcano in central Japan erupted in spectacular fashion on Saturday, catching mountain climbers by surprise and injuring at least 40 people who were stranded in areas that rescue workers have been unable to reach. Another seven people were missing.

The injured were in mountain lodges, because they were unable to descend 3,067-metre Mount Ontake on their own, said Sohei Hanamura, a crisis management official in Nagano prefecture. Thirty-two people had serious injuries, including at least seven who lost consciousness.

Police, fire and military rescue workers were trying to approach the area on foot, after deciding that the ash in the air made it too dangerous to use helicopters. The ash was also hampering their ascent.

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