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31 feared dead after Japan volcano erupts

By Agencies in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2014-09-29 07:36

Mount Ontake crowded with hikers out to view colorful autumn foliage

The first deaths were confirmed on Sunday among more than 30 hikers feared killed near the peak of a Japanese volcano that erupted without warning, spewing ash, rocks and steam.

Rescue workers battling rocketing levels of sulfurous gas found 31 people in "cardiac arrest" near the summit of 3,067-metre Mount Ontake, which erupted around noon on Saturday, police and local officials said.

The term is usually applied before doctors can certify death. Four of those found were brought down the volcano on Sunday where they were confirmed dead, broadcaster NHK reported.

"According to the police, four people out of the 31 people who had been found in cardiac arrest near the peak were confirmed dead. All of them were men," a station anchorman told viewers.

The news appeared to confirm fears that there was little hope for those still on the volcano.

An official in the area said rescue efforts had been called off because of approaching nightfall and rising levels of toxic gas near the mountain's summit.

Hundreds of people, including children, were stranded on the mountain, a popular hiking site, after it erupted, covering its slopes with deep ash for over a 3-kilometer radius.

Most people made their way down by late Saturday, but about 40 spent the night near the summit. Some wrapped themselves in blankets and huddled in the basements of buildings.

"The roof on the mountain lodge was destroyed by falling rocks, so we had to take refuge below the building," one person told NHK. "That's how bad it was."

Earlier, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said the authorities were trying to confirm the whereabouts of 45 people.

31 feared dead after Japan volcano erupts

It was not clear whether that included the 31 people said to be found in cardiopulmonary arrest.

The volcano continued to erupt on Sunday, spewing smoke and ash hundreds of meters into the sky. Ash was found on cars as far away as 80 km.

Volcanos erupt periodically in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active nations, but there have been no fatalities since 1991, when 43 people died in a pyroclastic flow, a superheated current of gas and rock, at Mount Unzen in southwestern Japan.

Mount Ontake, Japan's second-highest volcano 200 km west of Tokyo, last erupted seven years ago. Its last major eruption was in 1979.

Satoshi Saito, a 52-year-old hiker who climbed Mount Ontake on Saturday and descended less than an hour before the eruption, said the weather was good, and the mountain, which is known for its colorful autumn foliage, was crowded with people carrying cameras.

"There were no earthquakes or strange smells on the mountain when I was there," Saito, who said he climbs Mount Ontake several times a year, told Reuters.

He also said there were no warnings of possible eruptions posted on the trail.

"But a man who runs a hotel near the mountain told me that the number of small earthquakes had risen these past two months, and everyone thought it was weird," Saito said.

Video footage on the Internet showed a huge gray cloud moving toward climbers at the peak and people scrambling to descend as it enveloped them.

"All of a sudden ash piled up so quickly that we couldn't even open the door," said Shuichi Mukai, who worked in a mountain lodge just below the peak. The building quickly filled with hikers seeking refuge.

"We were really packed in, maybe 150 people. There were some children crying, but most people were calm. We waited there in hard hats until they told us it was safe to come down."

Japan lies on the "Ring of Fire", a horseshoe-shaped band of fault lines and volcanos on the edges of the Pacific Ocean. There are said to be 110 active volcanos.

Reuters - AFP

 31 feared dead after Japan volcano erupts

A Japan Self-Defense Force helicopter takes an injured person off Mount Ontake on Sunday. More than 500 military and police personnel set out on Sunday to search the peak of the volcano (down) popular with hikers, a day after its sudden eruption trapped hundreds on the mountain for hours. Kyodo Via Reuters and AP

31 feared dead after Japan volcano erupts

(China Daily 09/29/2014 page11)

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