National

Ontake innkeeper tells how he led hikers to safety

Kyodo

The manager of one of the mountain lodges on Mount Ontake has been describing how he helped lead about 50 trekkers to safety.

Yusuke Kodera, 34, runs a hut adjacent to Lake Ninoike. At an altitude of 2,900 meters, it is one of the closest buildings to the summit.

When the ground up opened just before midday Saturday, filling the air with ash and rock, panicked trekkers ran inside.

Falling rocks smashed into the roof, causing the section above the restrooms to collapse. Kodera knew there was only one place his people should be: in the hut’s canteen, which has a double-layered roof.

“Here, the roof is more solid, and you will be safe,” he told them.

He also distributed helmets.

The thick cloud of ash blocked out the daylight and sudden lightning and heavy rainfall knocked out the electricity, so Kodera fired up a generator.

Another group of climbers, soaked to the skin and covered with ash, made their way inside. The rain continued for about an hour.

When the rain and rocks ceased falling, Kodera knew he had to get the group down the mountain.

“We need to get as far as possible from the crater,” he told the people gathered inside.

“We can make it now,” he assured them, and when he set off everyone followed.

Outside, they found a colorless scene, he said, with everything coated in thick gray dust. They trudged through ash 10 cm thick as they made their way down the hill, aiming for a shelter he knew of at the trail’s ninth station.

Go carefully, Kodera urged them.

But the volcano continued to spew clouds of ash, forcing the evacuees to cover their eyes and mouths as they stumbled along.

At the ninth station, they found another 100 or so hikers sheltering inside the Ishimuro hut. Kodera asked staff to lead his people onward, deciding to remain at the hut in case others arrived in search of help. He left the ninth station on Saturday afternoon.

According to his account, Kodera guided a lot of people to safety. But he expressed grief at the apparent high death toll.

“It’s extremely sad that many people have lost their lives,” he said.

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