Families of Mount Ontake eruption victims to sue government

Kyodo

A group of relatives of victims who died or went missing in the 2014 eruption of Mount Ontake plans to sue the central and prefectural governments for failing to alert hikers properly, the families said Tuesday.

The families of five victims will demand ¥150 million in damages, arguing that the Meteorological Agency should have raised the alert level before the deadly eruption and that the Nagano Prefectural Government had failed to repair broken seismographs in the area.

The eruption late on the morning of Sept. 27, 2014, on a volcano popular with hikers and tourists, particularly during the autumn foliage season, killed 58 people. Five others who were missing are presumed dead. Many deaths resulted from the impact of falling rocks.

The lawsuit will be filed with the Nagano District Court’s Matsumoto branch on Jan. 25, based on the national redress law, which stipulates that public organizations such as the central government are liable for damages caused by public servants.

According to Jun Yamashita, a lawyer who will represent the plaintiffs, the Meteorological Agency left its eruption alert level unchanged at 1 even though it had recorded volcanic earthquakes 52 times on Sept. 10 and 85 times on Sept. 11.

The families say the alert level should have been raised by Sept. 12 at the latest, according to the lawyer.

They also say the prefectural government left untouched two seismographs located near the mountain peak despite knowing they were malfunctioning, negligence they say prevented precise recordings.

The agency declined to comment as it has not seen the content of the planned complaint. An official said the agency takes into account volcanic tremors and crustal changes as well as volcanic quakes when it raises its eruption alert level.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Tuesday that he did not have details about the lawsuit.

“We will take the issue seriously and respond accordingly,” he said.