Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Teams return to Mount Ontake to search for bodies, eight months on

Search teams returned to the peak of Mount Ontake on Wednesday for the first time in eight months to continue looking for the bodies of six hikers missing since the volcano erupted.

The disaster left 63 people dead or missing, bludgeoned by rocks and buried beneath scalding ash. Rescue work was called off last year when winter set in.

Around 50 people, including police, firefighters and volcanologists, began an exploratory ascent of the mountain in Nagano Prefecture with a view to resuming a full-scale search next month, after the conclusion of Japan’s annual rainy season.

The 3,067-meter peak was thronged with hikers viewing the region’s spectacular autumn colors when it burst unexpectedly to life on Sept. 27 last year.

It was Japan’s deadliest eruption in almost 90 years.

Dramatic mobile phone footage taken by survivors showed rocks raining down as clouds of ash engulfed people close to the summit.

Search and rescue teams last year trudged through thick, clay-like ash to recover 57 bodies in sometimes treacherous conditions, despite fears over toxic fumes and a possible further eruption.

The operation was suspended in October as autumn’s rains began to give way to snow, which soon made the peak impassable.

“There is a part of me that feels rather worried about what it is like up there,” said senior police officer Noriyuki Hayashi, of Nagano prefectural police, as the team prepared to ascend Mount Ontake. “But we will do what we can.”

The team observed a moment of silence below the mountain, which — even in the summer months of June — still has snow-covered ravines.

Aerial footage showed the searchers’ bright outerwear set against the gray lunar landscape of the ash-covered peak.

Ontake is one of scores of active volcanoes across the country, which sits on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” where a large proportion of the world’s quakes and eruptions are recorded.

Last month, authorities evacuated Kuchinoerabu Island, off the coast of Kyushu, when a volcano erupted there.

Autopsies on bodies recovered from Ontake last year revealed many of them died from injuries caused by flying rocks.

That led to a recommendation in March that people who climb Mount Fuji — also a volcano — should carry helmets and goggles with them.

Wednesday 10 June 2015


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