30 killed, 45 missing in Japanese volcano eruption
AT least 30 hikers were killed when Mount Ontake, Japan's second-highest volcano, erupted suddenly.
Emergency workers found the hikers, who were not breathing and whose hearts had stopped. The victims were found near the peak of the 10,062-foot mountain and appeared to have been knocked unconscious by debris erupting from the volcano, and may then have been overcome by the dense ash or toxic fumes. These were the first fatalities from a volcanic eruption in Japan since 1991.
By yesterday evening rescue workers confirmed that a further 45 hikers were still unaccounted for.
More than 60 people have also been injured, with around 40 of those in serious condition.
Helicopters from the Japan Self-Defence Forces were searching the mountain slopes yesterday and at least seven hikers who had endured a night amid the clouds of ash billowing from the volcano were flown to safety.
About 250 people are thought to have set out to scale the mountain on Saturday, with those on the lower slopes able to retrace their steps to safety after the volcano erupted without warning at 11.53am.
On the borders of Gifu and Nagano prefectures, some 200 kilometres west of Tokyo, the peak last erupted in 1979.
Television footage showed images of hikers dazed and coated in thick layers emerging from clouds of ash to be met by emergency teams.
Images taken from aircraft circling the mountain also showed ash pouring out of large vents in the face of the peak and nearby mountain huts covered in grey debris. Other buildings appeared to have been badly damaged by the force of the eruption.
"The eruption was very loud, even this far away," said Mitsuko Ando, owner of the Kaida No Popoya restaurant, which has a view of the peak some 15 kilometres to the south.
"There were a series of minor earthquakes that we felt in the days before the eruption, but we didn't really think much of them because it's not unusual," she said. "This has really come as a surprise," she added.
"Yesterday, the smoke was rising about two miles above the very top of the mountain and we can still see smoke pouring from areas near the top. And the ash has been falling here, leaving a fine coating across the garden," she said.
"All of a sudden, ash piles up so quickly that we couldn't even open the door," Shuichi Mukai, who works in a mountain hut, said. "We were really packed in here, maybe 150 people. There were some people crying, but most people were calm. We waited there until they told us it was safe to come down." (© Daily Telegraph, London)