September 2014 – JAPAN – Thirty-one people were presumed dead on Sunday near the peak of a Japanese volcano that erupted unexpectedly a day earlier while it was packed with hikers out to admire autumn foliage, sending a huge cloud of ash and rock tumbling down its slopes. Police said the 31 people were found in “cardiopulmonary” arrest but declined to confirm their deaths pending a formal examination, as per Japanese custom. An official in the area said rescue efforts had been called off due to rising levels of toxic gas near the peak, as well as approaching nightfall. Hundreds of people, including children, were stranded on the mountain, a popular hiking site, after it erupted without warning on Saturday, sending ash pouring down the slope for more than 3 km (2 miles.) Most made their way down later on Saturday but about 40 spent the night near the 3,067 meter (10,062 feet) peak. Some wrapped themselves in blankets and huddled in the basement of buildings. “The roof on the mountain lodge was destroyed by falling rock, so we had to take refuge below the building,” one told NHK national television. “That’s how bad it was.” More than 40 people were injured, several with broken bones.
Earlier, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency had said authorities were trying to confirm the whereabouts of 45 people. It was not clear whether those 45 included the 31 people found in cardiopulmonary arrest. The volcano was still erupting on Sunday, pouring smoke and ash hundreds of metres into the sky. Ash was found on cars as far as 80 km (50 miles) away. Volcanoes erupt periodically in Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active nations, but there have been no fatalities since 1991, when 43 people died in a pyroclastic flow, a superheated current of gas and rock, at Mount Unzen in southwestern Japan. Ontake, Japan’s second-highest volcano 200 km (125 miles) west of Tokyo, last erupted seven years ago. Its last major eruption was in 1979. Satoshi Saito, a 52-year-old hiker who climbed Ontake on Saturday and descended less than an hour before the eruption, said the weather was good and the mountain, known for its fall foliage, was crowded with people carrying cameras.
“There were no earthquakes or strange smells on the mountain when I was there,” Saito, who usually climbs Ontake several times a year, told Reuters. He also said there were no warnings of possible eruptions posted on the trail. “But a man who runs a hotel near the mountain told me that the number of small earthquakes had risen these past two months, and everyone thought it was weird,” Saito said. –Reuters