1 Oct 2014

Volcano death toll nears 50

10:04 pm on 1 October 2014

A dozen more bodies have been found by rescuers on the peak of a Japanese volcano that erupted at the weekend, raising the death toll to 48.

The figure makes the eruption of Mount Ontake, which was packed with hikers when it burst angrily to life on Saturday, the worst volcanic disaster in Japan for almost 90 years.

Rescue workers board a defence force helicopter today to continue the search for survivors.

Rescue workers board a defence force helicopter today to continue the search for survivors. Photo: AFP / Jiji Press

Up until Sunday 36 bodies had been found, but many of these remained on the ruptured mountain as toxic gas and the risk of further eruptions forced emergency workers to suspend operations, AFP reports.

The grim news of more deaths today came after media reports earlier suggested as many as 20 people remained unaccounted for, with an area of the volcano still spewing steam and gas.

Some of the around 1000 troops, police and firefighters combing the volcano succeeded in bringing down 14 more of the bodies that were discovered on Sunday, with another 10 still there.

An official at Nagano prefecture's crisis management office said helicopters had been used to ferry the dead from the mountain, whose pockmarked lunarscape bears witness to the huge volume of ask and rocks flung from the volcano.

"We believe there are more people still missing, but we don't know how many they are," he said.

Mount Ontake in Nagano prefecture has continued to smoke this week.

Mount Ontake in Nagano prefecture has continued to smoke this week. Photo: AFP

Hiking is a hugely popular pastime in Japan, with mountain trails promoted by tourism officials who ask walkers to sign in when they begin their trek and sign out again when they finish.

But a local tourism association said that usually only 10 to 20 per cent of hikers register before entering the mountains in high season. Some 327 hikers had registered their presence on Mount Ontake at the time of the eruption.

Volcanic tremors have been detected constantly since Saturday's eruption, with underground water boiling into steam and breaking or moving rocks, a vulcanologist at the meteorological agency said.

Until today, the single biggest death toll from a volcano was 43 when Mount Unzen erupted in southwestern Japan in 1991.

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