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Japanese volcano: at least 30 feared dead after being trapped by eruption

Mount Ontake, Japan’s second highest volcano, erupts on Saturday injuring at least eight people and leaving more than 30 people stranded near the peak. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he has issued instructions to mobilise the military to help in the rescue effort. The volcano, located some 200km (125 miles) west of Tokyo, stands at 3,067 metres (10,062 feet) high.

More than 30 people are feared to have died after a volcano erupted in Japan, spewing ash and rocks and trapping scores of hikers on the hillside.

The victims, who were trapped overnight after Mount Ontake erupted without warning on Saturday, have been described as not breathing and their hearts stopped. That is the customary way for Japanese authorities to describe a body until police doctors can examine it.

“We have confirmed that more than 30 individuals in cardiac arrest have been found near the summit,” a Nagano prefecture police spokesman told AFP without elaborating further.

The 3,067m-high mountain, a popular location for walkers and climbers, erupted shortly before noon Saturday, spewing large white plumes of gas, ash and rocks into the sky and blanketing the surrounding area.

About 250 people were initially trapped on the slopes, but most made their way down by Saturday night.

More than 500 Japanese military and police used helicopters to search for survivors on Sunday.

Video footage showed huge grey clouds boiling towards climbers at the peak and people scrambling to descend as blackness enveloped them.

“All of a sudden ash piled up so quickly that we couldn’t even open the door,” Shuichi Mukai, who worked in a mountain hut just below the peak, told Reuters. The hut quickly filled with hikers taking refuge.

“We were really packed in here, maybe 150 people. There were some children crying, but most people were calm. We waited there in hard hats until they told us it was safe to come down.”

The mountain, some 200km west of Tokyo, is a popular site to view autumn foliage, currently at its best.

Flights at Tokyo’s Haneda airport suffered delays as planes changed routes to avoid the peak, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures, but were mostly back to normal by Sunday, an airport spokeswoman said.

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.

An official at the volcano division of the Japan Meteorological Agency said that, while there had been a rising number of small earthquakes detected at Ontake since 10 September, the eruption could not have been predicted easily.

“There were no other signs of an imminent eruption, such as earth movements or changes on the mountain’s surface,” the official told Reuters. “With only the earthquakes, we couldn’t really say this would lead to an eruption.”

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