Raining rocks killed Mt. Ontake climbers

Raining rocks killed Mt. Ontake climbers
Firefighters carry a hiker during rescue operations on Mount Ontake, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures.

NAGANO - Many people probably died after they were directly hit by volcanic rocks during Mt. Ontake's eruption on Saturday, according to doctors.

The doctors related stories of how climbers suffered serious back or head injuries as they tried to protect themselves from rocks that fell from the sky like rain.

"Most of the victims died after being struck by volcanic rocks while they tried to escape, and then were covered in ash," the doctor said, adding that the bones of some of the victims had been shattered whiles others had suffered from numerous bruises.

Another doctor said the bodies had suffered severe injuries, but the victims were found in various situations - one seems to have just arrived at a mountain lodge when he was fatally injured, another was found dead with a mobile phone in hand and a third victim died while clutching a backpack.

"It is a situation beyond our imagination," the doctor said.

Crouching down

A doctor who treated some severely injured climbers commented on how lethal the volcanic rocks are.

"The rocks mainly struck the backs of the climbers as they descended the mountain. Many suffered more than one broken bone," Kaneyuki Furihata, a Nagano Red Cross Hospital doctor who treated the injured, said at a press conference on Tuesday. Furihata and other doctors arrived Saturday night at Nagano Prefectural Kiso Hospital to treat the injured.

Furihata said he saw five patients in their 30s and 40s, who suffered from bone fractures and internal bleeding after being struck in the back or head by rocks. One had suffered a broken rib, which had punctured a lung.

Many victims are believed to have suffered back injuries because they crouched down in an effort to protect themselves, Furihata said.

Buried in ash

The situation around the mountain peak has gradually become clear.

Toshiaki Kano, 59, head of the Nagoya municipal fire department who joined the rescue operation Sunday, said many people were lying on their sides or face down, mostly covered with volcanic ash.

As the ash piled up to a few dozen centimeters, only a hand or leg of many of the victims could be seen.

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