Ja­pan body searchers re­turn to vol­cano eight months on

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

Ja­panese search teams re­turned to the peak of a vol­cano Wed­nes­day for the first time in eight months to look for the bod­ies of six climbers still miss­ing af­ter an erup­tion that killed dozens.

Around 50 peo­ple, in­clud­ing po­lice, fire­fight­ers and vol­ca­nol­o­gists, be­gan an ex­ploratory as­cent of Mount On­take in cen­tral Nagano pre­fec­ture with a view to re­sum­ing a full-scale search next month, af­ter the rainy sea­son.

The 3,067 me­ter (10,121 feet) Mount On­take was packed with hik­ers out to see the re­gion’s spec­tac­u­lar au­tumn colors when it burst un­ex­pect­edly to life on Sept. 27 last year.

The shock erup­tion was Ja­pan’s dead­li­est for al­most 90 years, leav­ing an es­ti­mated 63 peo­ple dead, many of their bod­ies at least par­tially en­tombed in vol­canic sludge.

Dra­matic mo­bile phone footage showed hails of rock rain­ing down as clouds of ash and smoke en­gulfed walk­ers on the vol­cano, which has long been popular among ca­sual hik­ers.

Search and res­cue teams trudged through thick, clay-like ash to re­cover 57 bod­ies in some­times treach­er­ous con­di­tions, de­spite fears over toxic fumes and fur­ther erup­tions.

The op­er­a­tion was suspended in Oc­to­ber as au­tumn’s rains be­gan to give way to snow, which soon made the peak im­pass­able.

“There is a part of me that feels rather wor­ried about what it is like up there” around the sum­mit, Noriyuki Hayashi, se­nior of­fi­cer at Nagano pre­fec­ture po­lice, told jour­nal­ists Wed­nes­day as the team pre­pared as­cend Mount On­take. “But we will do what we can.” The team ob­served a mo­ment of si­lence in front of the moun­tain, which — even in the sum­mer months of June — still has snow­cov­ered ravines.

Aerial footage showed the searchers’ bright out­er­wear against the grey lu­nar land­scape of the ash-cov­ered peak.

On­take is one of scores of ac­tive vol­ca­noes in Ja­pan, which sits on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” where a large pro­por­tion of the world’s quakes and erup­tions are recorded.

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