One body recovered near the summit of the Mount Ontake volcano was in a squatting position and had to be dug out of a thick layer of ash; another was caught between boulders bigger than large refrigerators. Police who recovered a dozen bodies today portrayed a "severe," painful scene of death around the summit, where hikers enjoying a weekend autumn hike were caught by Saturday's surprise eruption. The death toll from the mountain in central Japan rose to 47 after today's search, conducted as ash and gases spewed from the crater, Nagano police said. Searchers carried devices to measure the toxicity of the gases after being forced off the mountain Monday.
Rescuers numbering in the hundreds found the bodies outside a lodge just below the mountaintop shrine and on a hiking trail leading to the area, a police rep said. Rescuers retrieved all of the bodies that were visible, and the rep indicates that few, if any, people are still missing. Medical experts who have examined some of the nearly 70 injured people told Japanese media that many had bruises, cuts, and bone fractures on their backs, an apparent sign they were hit by rocks flying out of the volcano as they fled. Some were badly coated with ash and had to be carefully washed to reach the skin surface. Before Saturday, seismologists had detected signs of increased seismic activity at Mount Ontake, one of Japan's 110 active volcanoes, but nothing signaled a fatal eruption. (Read more Mount Ontake stories.)