Grim search for dozens missing at Japan volcano site
The search for survivors from the ongoing eruption of Japan's Mount Ontake has turned into a race to recover dozens of bodies from the upper slopes of the volcano.
Rescue services now believe that the death toll could go beyond 70. All day yesterday helicopters from the Japanese military were shuttling some of the bodies of at least 36 hikers who were killed in the powerful explosion from the top of the 10,000-foot mountain to the nearest towns.
Five more climbers who were killed in the eruption were found yesterday before authorities were forced to call off the search due to dangerously high levels of toxic gas.
Authorities said that as well as the dead, more than 40 people are injured and 43 are missing. Other climbers, who remain lost on the mountainside, are believed to have died of asphyxiation or after inhaling poisonous gases that are continuing to vent from the volcano.
"They brought down four bodies yesterday and another six so far this morning," Nobuyuki Takeuchi, superintendent of the Kiso Police Station, said. "But the situation is very difficult as the mountain is still erupting," he said. The bodies that have been recovered were taken to a disused elementary school in Kisofukushima while the majority of the injured are being treated at Kiso Prefectural Hospital. Authorities at the hospital are refusing to give anyone other than immediate family access to the injured.
In the town of Takayama, a spokesman for the city's Red Cross Hospital said three people were being treated for broken bones and extensive burns caused by hot gases.
The missing include an 11-year-old girl, who was scaling the peak with her family but had set off earlier. The girl's mother and brothers were able to evacuate the mountain and are safe. Relatives of the missing and the dead have been quarantined at the city hall to await further news. Japan is one of the world's most seismically active nations, but had suffered no fatalities in volcanic eruptions since 1991, when 43 people died in a pyroclastic flow, a superheated current of gas and rock, at Mount Unzen in the southwest.
Ontake, Japan's second-highest active volcano, 125 miles west of Tokyo, last had a minor eruption seven years ago before it exploded on Saturday. Its last major eruption, the first on record, was in 1979. . (© Daily telegraph, London)