At least 30 people are believed to have died near the peak of a volcano in central Japan that erupted without warning on Saturday, trapping scores of amateur climbers and covering a wide area with thick ash.
Police said rescuers had discovered more than 30 people suffering from heart and lung failure; official confirmation that the victims are dead won’t come until doctors have examined the bodies.
“We have confirmed that more than 30 individuals in cardiac arrest have been found near the summit,” a Nagano prefecture police spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
Mount Ontake, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures about 130 miles west of Tokyo, erupted shortly before noon on Saturday, sending thick plumes of smoke and rocks into the air.
About 250 people were near the 3,067-metre peak when the eruption occurred. Most were able to make their way down the mountain to safety on Saturday, reports said.
Before the bodies were discovered on Sunday, the fire and disaster management agency had said 45 people were unaccounted for. After calling off their search overnight on Saturday amid fears of fresh eruptions and the buildup of toxic gas, rescue workers were continuing to reach people on Sunday, including several who were injured, who had taken refuge overnight in mountain lodges.
Seven people were taken off the mountain on Sunday morning in a rescue operation involving helicopters and more than 500 troops, police officers and firefighters.