Oct 1, 2014 3:49 AM

Bodies found on Japan volcano, raising toll to 48

The Associated Press

OTAKI, Japan (AP) One body recovered near the volcano's summit was in a squatting position and had to be dug out of a thick layer of ash. Another was caught between huge boulders bigger than large refrigerators. Police who recovered a dozen bodies on Wednesday portrayed a painful scene of death around the summit where hikers enjoying a weekend autumn hike were caught by the mountain's surprise eruption.

The death toll from Saturday's eruption in central Japan rose to 48 after Wednesday's search, conducted as some ash and gases spewed from the crater, Nagano police said. Searchers carried devices to measure the toxicity of the gases to make sure it was safe to be on the slopes.

Ground Self-Defense Forces helicopters brought the bodies to the foot of Mount Ontake. Prefectural and police officials said most bodies were found around the summit, where many climbers were resting or having lunch at the time of the eruption. Other victims were found at a slightly lower elevation that reportedly had little place to hide.

Nagano police riot unit leader Mamoru Yamazaki described the rescue scene as "severe."

His team, part of hundreds of rescuers, found the bodies outside of a lodge just below the mountaintop shrine and on a hiking trail leading to the area, Yamazaki said.

Rescuers used a special cutting machine to retrieve the body stuck between the two huge rocks, he said. Many bodies were half-buried in the ash, others even deeper, he told reporters.

Yamazaki said rescuers retrieved all of the bodies that were visible, indicating that few, if any, people are still missing. Authorities have not released any updates on the number of missing because of conflicting initial information but have said they were checking closely.

Medical experts who have examined some of the nearly 70 injured told Japanese media that many of them had bruises, cuts and bone fractures on the back, an apparent sign they were hit by rocks flying out of the volcano as they fled down the slope. Some of them were badly coated with ash and had to be carefully washed to reach the skin surface.

Before Saturday, seismologists had detected signs of increased seismic activity at Mount Ontake, one of Japan's 110 active volcanos, but nothing signaled a fatal eruption.

Survivors said huge boulders fell from the sky and billowing gray smoke cast total darkness over the mountain minutes after the eruption. Their stories indicated that those who managed to hide behind big rocks or escaped into nearby lodges survived.


Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.


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