TOKYO: Rescuers searching the volcano that erupted without warning in Japan found dead hikers wedged between huge rocks and people half buried in ash, it emerged Thursday.
At least 47 people are now known to have died in Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years.
But a number of people remain unaccounted for, with fears some could be entombed in the thick, sticky ash that now coats the peak after Saturday’s eruption.
Heavy rain forced police, troops and firefighters to abandon their search of Mount Ontake on Thursday, the latest reminder of the hostility of the 3,067 metre (10,121-feet) mountain, which is still billowing steam and toxic gas.
Police rescuers found ash 40-50 centimetres (16-20 inches) deep at the shrine on the peak, with some of those killed found collapsed and half-buried, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
Five bodies were stuck in between jagged boulders up to three metres (nine feet) across, with emergency workers having to use specialist rock-breaking tools to free them, the paper said.
Another rescuer told the Nikkan Sports daily that moving around on the bed of ash was difficult because of the way it had mixed with steam.
“It sticks like damp concrete,” he said.
Rescue workers are having to tread extremely carefully because of worries that the blanket of ash they are walking on could be hiding crevices, or unstable rocks.
Autopsies have revealed that hikers, many of whom had been enjoying lunch in the autumn sunshine at the peak, died largely from injuries caused by stones hurled out in the initial explosive eruption at up to 300 kilometres (190 miles) an hour.