TOKYO • Japan yesterday warned tourists to keep away from popular Mount Aso after it began belching smoke and ash, the latest eruption in one of the world's most volcanically active countries.
The authorities issued their third-highest alert and cancelled more than a dozen flights after the huge volcano on the south-western island of Kyushu shot a column of ash several thousand metres into the clear sky.
"We suddenly saw an unusually massive plume rising in the air," said Mr Kimihiko Jo, an Aso official. "The black and grey column at one point appeared to be weakening, but it's growing bigger again."
The local authorities evacuated about 30 tourists and shop workers who were near the volcano, the official said, adding that they have set up a 4km no-go zone around the crater.
The government said there were no immediate reports of injuries or casualties from the eruption, but the meteorological agency warned tourists to evacuate quickly.
Troops, police and firefighters had been deployed to check if the eruption had caused any damage or casualties, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo.
At least 18 domestic flights were cancelled due to the eruption, airlines said.
The 1,592m Aso has been rumbling since last year and, last month, the meteorological agency also issued an alert after picking up increasing seismic activity around the volcano Sakurajima, to the south.
In June, search teams returned to the peak of Mount Ontake in central Nagano prefecture, for the first time in eight months, to look for the bodies of six climbers still missing after Japan's deadliest eruption in almost 90 years killed an estimated 63 people.