First deaths confirmed on Japanese volcano
OTAKI, Japan The first deaths were confirmed yesterday 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 sulphurous 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 yesterday 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.
Rescue operations resumed yesterday on Mt. Ontake, central Japan, according to police.
The volcano, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures, erupted With smoke plumes extending up to 10km high, the volcano continued to erupt into the night, preventing rescue operations on Saturday amid fears of fresh eruptions and toxic gas.
Yesterday morning, three climbers were picked up by a Self-Defense Forces helicopter before several unconscious climbers were discovered by noon, according to the Nagano prefectural government and police.
The prefectural government said that a total of 45 people remained unaccounted for as of 11:30am yesterday.
More than 40 climbers were forced to shelter in lodges overnight due to poor visibility.
A total of 26 climbers who had stayed in a lodge on the Gifu side began to descend on their own yesterday morning and reached the foot of the mountain before noon, with two of them seriously injured and six suffering minor injuries.
The other climbers who sheltered in lodges on the Nagano side were still on the mountain.
The mountain, popular with tourists particularly in the fall, last experienced a major eruption in 1979 when it expelled over 200,000 tons of ash. It also underwent a minor eruption in 1991 and caused multiple volcanic earthquakes in 2007.
While data had shown evidence of volcanic earthquakes in the area in mid-September, there were few other indications that an eruption might be in the offing, making it difficult to predict, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Rescue efforts were called off mid- afternoon yesterday because the environment was becoming too dangerous for emergency workers, an official at the Nagano prefectural government said.