Mt. Ontake risks reported in 1979

Mt. Ontake risks reported in 1979
Local residents pray for victims of Mt. Ontake’s eruption at a park in Kiso, Nagano Prefecture, on Monday morning.

JAPAN - In a report issued after Mt. Ontake's first eruption in 1979, experts advised the implementation of safety measures for climbers, such as the construction of shelters, due to the risk of extensive damage if a disaster were to occur during the tourist season. Unfortunately, their recommendations have never been put in practice.

A volcanic eruption occurred in October 1979 for the first time in recorded history southwest of Kengamine, the mountain's highest point. Of the 30 climbers on Mt. Ontake at the time, one suffered a mild head injury due to falling volcanic ash. The climbing season had just ended so there were fewer climbers on the mountain when it erupted.

The National Research Center for Disaster Prevention (currently the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention) conducted an investigation afterward and filed the report.

The report said the eruption would have caused extensive damage and rescue operations on the mountain would have faced difficulties due to the high altitude if it had taken place during the height of the tourist season. Though the report accurately predicted what happened at Mt. Ontake last month, its warnings apparently went unheeded.

In the late 1970s, a series of eruptions occurred at Mt. Uzu, Mt. Aso and Mt. Ontake, leading to greater public awareness of the hazards of volcanic ash and debris flow.

The national research centre, which was mainly engaged in basic research on disaster prevention, dispatched four researchers to Mt. Ontake in November 1979, a week after the eruption. Following interviews with various individuals and analysis of documents, the report was compiled in March 1980.

The report said the eruption injured only one person slightly as it occurred when the climbing season was over, but pointed out that the altitude of 3,000 meters creates safety concerns, as an increasing number of people visited summer resorts and ski slopes on the mountain.

"If the eruption had occurred during the climbing season, it could have resulted in a serious loss of life, and the rescue work would have faced extreme difficulties due to the alitude," it said.

Regulations on development and land utilization, building codes and improvement of shelters and evacuation facilities were requested in the report. The volcanic area's use and disaster prevention are in conflict, but it is important to develop the site with human lives as the top priority and improve safety precautions, the report said.

However, the report's contents were never conveyed to local municipalities in charge of disaster management. The current research institute considered the report to be an academic document and not aimed at advising munici-palities on proper measures. Though the findings were published at the time, a public relations official at the institute said the report apparently was not distributed.

Monday marked one month since the eruption of Mt. Ontake that killed 57 and left seven missing. People and employees offered silent prayers for the victims in Nagano prefectural government office, Kiso town office and Otaki village office in the prefecture at 11:52 am, the time when the volcano erupted on Sept. 27.

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