At least 36 people are feared to have died after a Japanese volcano erupted without warning at the weekend, raining ash and stones on hikers, but the search for victims was abandoned yesterday due to fears of rising levels of toxic gases.
Rescuers at the peak of Mount Ontake, now an eerie moonscape under a thick layer of grey ash, yesterday found what might be five new victims of the Saturday eruption.
The eruption of the 3,067m volcano, 200km west of Tokyo, took place as the popular hiking site was packed with climbers, including children, admiring autumn foliage.
Only four people have so far been confirmed dead in Japan’s first fatal volcanic eruption since 1991, and at least 60 have been injured, some with broken bones.
“It’s my son, my second son. We’ve had absolutely no contact at all,” a grey-haired man told Japanese television, adding that his 26-year-old son had gone to the mountain with his girlfriend. “We’re utterly exhausted.”
More than 500 rescuers had been combing the summit, plowing through knee-deep ash and passing mountain lodges with holes punched in their roofs by rocks shot out of the volcano.
Helicopters lifted laden stretchers one by one from the summit yesterday before rescue efforts were abandoned.
As on Sunday, the smell of sulfur was strong at the peak, fanning fears of toxic fumes and forcing rescuers off the mountain.
Japan is one of the world’s most seismically active nations. In 1991, 43 people died in a pyroclastic flow, a superheated current of gas and rock, at Mount Unzen in the southwest.
Mount Ontake, Japan’s second-highest active volcano, last had a minor eruption seven years ago. Its last major eruption, the first on record, was in 1979.
Hikers said there was no warning of Saturday’s eruption just before noon and hundreds were trapped for hours before descent became possible later in the day.
“I felt a hot wind blast against my back and crouched down to the ground,” a man told Japan’s NTV channel. “I was sure I was going to die.”
It was natural that Japan’s Meteorological Agency, which monitors volcanic activity, might reconsider its surveillance system, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
“However, I believe that, given current levels of knowledge, they made the only judgment they could,” he told a news conference.
Suga also said the eruption would have no impact on the restart of the Sendai nuclear plant in southwestern Japan, an area of active volcanic sites. The plant was cleared to restart earlier this month.
Experts said it was hard to have predicted the eruption, despite tremors in the area this month, since there were no other changes in the mountain.
Also, the eruption appears to have resulted from a steam-driven explosion of a kind that is especially hard to forecast, volcano expert Toshitsugu Fujii said.
“They often occur quite suddenly and there is absolutely no guarantee that the earthquakes earlier this month were connected,” he said at a news conference on Sunday. “There is no guarantee of total safety when you’re dealing with nature.”
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
A squad of gun-toting police officers patrolled Myanmar’s sacred site of Bagan under the cover of night, taking on plunderers snatching relics from temples forsaken by tourists due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each evening as dusk falls, about 100 officers fan out across the plain of Bagan covering 50km2, sweeping flashlights over the crumbling monuments to scour for intruders. “Our security forces are patrolling day and night,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Sein Win told reporters. “We have it under control for the moment, but it’s a challenge.” The central Burmese city is strewn with more than 3,500 ancient monuments — stupas, temples, murals and sculptures