TOKYO (AFP) - A search operation for people missing on a volcano in central Japan was called off on Sunday, more than a week after a deadly eruption claimed dozens of lives, as an approaching typhoon brought heavy rains.
The bodies of at least 12 hikers are believed to be lying somewhere on the still-smouldering Mount Ontake, a popular trekking destination that saw a spectacular eruption on Sept 27.
Rescue workers have already retrieved the bodies of 51 other victims, making it Japan's deadliest eruption for almost 90 years. "The rescue efforts are suspended due to heavy rains in the area," said a disaster official at Nagano prefecture.
Heavy rain and strong winds are sweeping across Japan as Typhoon Phanfone moves toward the Pacific coast, threatening to make landfall on Monday.
Phanfone, a Laotian term for "animal", was at noon located around 120km south-east of Yakushima, Kagoshima prefecture in southern Japan, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Packing gusts of up to 216 kmh, the typhoon was moving north at speed of 20 kmh, and could make landfall by Monday, the agency said.
Gasses are still rising from the mountain, now covered by a knee-deep layer of wet and sticky ash that has hampered with the search-and-rescue operation.
Nearly 1,000 troops, firefighters, the police have participated in the search operation amid fears that the bodies of missing hikers remain buried under the ash.
Mount Ontake was popular among hikers - particularly as the autumn leaves turn their colours.