NAGANO – A landslide Thursday buried at least three climbers on Mount Shirouma in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, killing one man and leaving a woman trapped in mud, police said.
Two of the men were rescued, but Ginnosuke Tanaka, 65, of Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Hiroshi Okubo, 57, from Akashina, Nagano Prefecture, sustained serious injuries, police said. Rescuers were still trying to save the woman.
“I heard a roaring sound similar to that of a jet plane, and I saw mud coming toward me,” said Okubo. “I ran as fast as I could, but I was hit by a falling rock.”
The Meteorological Agency had issued a landslide warning for the areas following heavy rain. About 2,000 cu. meters of mud was released in the landslide, according to police estimates.
More climbers may have been hit by the landslide, according to police. But search and rescue efforts were hampered by the thick fog that engulfed the site and continued smaller landslides.
Police suspended the day’s search shortly after 3:30 p.m. and plan to resume the effort early Friday morning.
The first news of the landslide reached Sarukura-so, a mountain cottage near the entrance to the trekking route, at around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday. About 50 local rescue workers were soon dispatched to find those trapped under the mud.
About 200 to 300 climbers left the cottage in the morning, according to Tomoyuki Tanida, 34, manager of the cottage.
“The number of climbers is not big today. But I’m worried about the people who may be trapped in the mud as well as the recurrence of such an accident in the future,” he said.
Tanaka had started climbing the mountain alone Monday. On Wednesday, he reportedly telephoned his family and said he would seek shelter amid the bad weather at a mountain cottage.
Okubo said he saw a man — who turned out to be Tanaka — collapsed about 100 meters from the site where he himself was hit by the rock.
“I thought that I would also die . . . I was so scared,” Okubo said as he recalled the horror of the landslide.
The 2,932-meter mountain drew some 35,000 climbers last year, according to the village tourist bureau.
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