NAGANO - The death toll from the eruption of Mt. Ontake reached 12 on Monday as search-and-rescue activities continued for the missing, according to the Nagano prefectural police.
Eight people were confirmed dead Monday, and four others on Sunday, police said. These are the first fatalities in a volcanic disaster in this nation since a total of 44 people died or went missing in pyroclastic flows caused by the eruption of Mt. Unzen in Nagasaki Prefecture in 1991 and 1993.
Eruptions continued Monday on the 3,067-meter-high volcano, with clouds of volcanic ash rising about 500 meters above the rim of the crater, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Rescue activities, which were suspended Sunday evening due to the detection of toxic volcanic gas, resumed at 5:40 a.m. on Monday.
The Nagano side dispatched about 540 rescue workers and mobilized 10 helicopters. In addition to transporting people found around the summit, rescuers searched for others who were left behind.
The rescue teams were drawn from the Nagano and Gifu prefectural police headquarters, the Self-Defence Forces and fire departments. They headed for the summit via two routes - the Otaki and Kurosawa trailheads on the Nagano side - and searched for stranded climbers around the hut near the summit.
According to the Nagano prefectural police headquarters and other sources, the 31 people found earlier in a state of cardiac and respiratory arrest had been buried under volcanic ash around the hut near the summit or close to a crater.
On Sunday night, local authorities announced that among the 31 found, four male climbers had been confirmed dead.
According to a public relations official at the SDF, 50 centimeters of volcanic ash accumulated in some areas near the summit.
The Japan Meteorological Agency's Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions determined that the eruption was a hydrovolcanic explosion, which occurs when groundwater is heated by magma.
An eruption on a similar scale may occur in the future, the committee said.