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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Search suspended at volcano hit Japan town as toxic gas levels rise

The eruption of the 3,067-metre peak, 200 km west of Tokyo

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TOKYO, Japan - Rescuers Monday called off hectic search operation after unnerving rise in toxic gas levels in a Japan town where dozens of people are feared to have died after a volcano erupted without warning at the weekend.

The peak of Mount Ontake, according to witnesses, has turned into an eerie moonscape with a thick layer of gray ash.

Discovery of five more bodies brought the number of people feared dead in Mount Ontake eruption on Saturday to 36.

Eruption at Japan's second-highest active volcano at Mount Ontake was the first fatal volcanic eruption in the country since 1991.

The eruption of the 3,067-metre peak, 200 km west of Tokyo, took place as the popular hiking site was packed with climbers, including children, admiring autumn foliage under a brilliant blue sky.

More than 500 rescuers were involved in the combing operations, plowing through knee-deep ash and passing mountain lodges with holes punched in their roofs by rocks shot out of the volcano

But rescuers were forced to stop search operation due to fears of toxic gas.

A Japanese army official who took part in the search said rescuers had worn helmets, bullet-proof vests, goggles and masks to protect themselves from any fresh eruption. But the search was still difficult as it involved digging through ash.

"I saw rocks up to probably one metre across that had been thrown through the air," the official said.

Japan is one of the world's most seismically active nations. In 1991, volcanic eruption at Mount Unzen, in the southwest, killed 43 people in the pyroclastic flow, a superheated current of gas and rock.

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.

Volcanoes can also kill by spewing toxic gases and lung-choking ash.

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 NTV. "I was sure I was going to die."> BNN

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