Police in central Japan say they have found the bodies of more than 30 people near the summit of Mount Ontake, a volcano that erupted Saturday.
The report Sunday said more than 30 hikers were found in “cardiac arrest,” which is the customary way Japanese authorities describe a body until doctors can examine it.
Hundreds of Japanese police and military troops ascended the slopes of Mount Ontake Sunday morning, searching for survivors and casualties from the eruption.
Officials say other hikers have been seriously injured.
Hundreds of people were stranded on the peak after it erupted Saturday without warning around noon, local time. Most made their way down Saturday evening.
Officials say one person was rescued from under a thick layer of ash.
Mount Ontake is popular among hikers in the autumn. The volcano, which sits on the border of Nagano and Gifu prefectures west of Tokyo, had its last major eruption in 1979.
“It was like thunder,” a woman told public broadcaster NHK of the first eruption at the volcano in seven years. “I heard boom, boom, then everything went dark.”
The Japan Meteorological Agency said the volcano, Mount Ontake, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures 200 kilometers west of Tokyo, erupted just before midday Saturday and sent ash pouring down the mountain’s south slope for more than three kilometers.
Tokyo’s Haneda airport said incoming domestic flights were experiencing delays of about 40 to 50 minutes because they were forced to change routes. International flights to and from Haneda were not affected by the eruption, the airport said.
According to police, more than 250 hikers at one stage had been stranded on the mountain, which is 3,067 meters high.
NHK said about 230 hikers had made their way down the mountain, while 41 people remained stranded and were expected to try descending the next day.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who returned from the United States on Saturday, said he had ordered the military to help in rescue efforts.
“I instructed to do all we can to rescue the people affected and secure the safety of the trekkers,” Abe told reporters.
Nagano police sent a team of 80 to the mountain to assist the climbers, while Kiso Prefectural Hospital, near the mountain, said it had dispatched a medical emergency team.
“We expect a lot of injured people so we are now getting ready for their arrival,” said an official at the hospital.
“It’s all white outside, looks like it has snowed. There is very bad visibility and we can’t see the top of the mountain,” Mari Tezuka, who works at a mountain hut for trekkers, told Reuters.
“All we can do now is shut up the hut and then we are planning on coming down… This is a busy season because of the changing autumn leaves. It’s one of our busiest seasons.”