– ‘It’s over. I’m dying now’ –
Rescue workers were trying to bring down at least 27 people still on the volcano who were believed killed, with six airlifted late morning, according to NHK. They were technically listed as in “cardiac arrest” – a term applied before doctors can certify death.
About 40 people were hurt by flying rocks and inhaling poisonous fumes.
For anguished families, the wait for news was taking its toll.
A tearful father sobbed as he clutched a photograph of his son and the young man’s girlfriend, who had not been heard from since the eruption.
An elderly woman told the Asahi network that her son had telephoned her just after gas, rocks and ash began spewing from the volcano.
“He told me it erupted… He said ‘It’s over. I’m dying now’ and then the line was cut off,” the woman said.
The meteorological agency forecast further eruptions, warning that volcanic debris may settle within four kilometres (2.5 miles) of the peak.
Japan’s meteorological agency keeps a round-the-clock watch on 47 volcanoes thought to be at risk of violent activity over the next century, including Mount Fuji, whose eruption could have a catastrophic effect on the country’s economy.
But Toshitsugu Fujii, a vulcanologist at the agency, admitted accurate forecasting was very difficult.
Steam explosions such as those on Ontake often occur without warning, he said.
“People may say we failed to predict this (because there were earthquakes in September) but this is something that could not be helped, in a sense. That’s the reality of the limit of our knowledge,” he said Sunday.