Death toll reaches 48

TOKYO – 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 about 90 years.

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.

The grim news of more deaths on Wednesday 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 added.

Broadcaster NHK said earlier in the day rescuers had seen more bodies that they had not yet been able to access.