47 dead in volcano eruption
OTAKI, Japan (AP) – One body recovered near the volcano’s peak was in a squatting position and had to be dug out of a thick layer of ash.
Another was caught between boulders bigger than large refrigerators. Police who recovered the bodies today portrayed a painful scene of death around the summit where hikers enjoying an autumn weekend hike were caught by the mountain’s surprise eruption.
The death toll from Saturday’s eruption on Mount Ontake in central Japan rose to 47, Nagano police said in a statement. While ash and gases were spewing from the crater, searchers wearing surgical masks and helmets carried devices to measure the toxicity of the gases to make sure it was safe to be on the slopes filled with volcanic debris.
It was the worst fatal eruption in post-war history, exceeding the 43 killed in the 1991 eruption of Mount Unzen in southern Japan.
Ground Self-Defence Forces mobilised CH-47 helicopters to bring the last bodies to the foot of Ontake, known as one of Japan’s 100 best mountains and topped by a shrine that attracts visitors.
Prefectural and police officials said most bodies were found around the summit, where many climbers were resting or having lunch at the time of the eruption. Other victims were found at a slightly lower elevation that reportedly had little place to hide.
Nagano police riot unit leader Mamoru Yamazaki described the rescue scene as “severe”.
Authorities say all of the known victims have been recovered, but the decision on whether to end the search was still being evaluated. In their statement giving the death toll, Nagano police also apologised for an earlier miscount of 48 dead.
The nearly 70 people who were injured in the eruption had bruises, cuts and broken bones indicating flying rocks hit them as they fled down the slope. Survivors described hiding in rock crevasses or inside mountain lodges while smoke blackened the sky and ash covered the ground.