UTSUNOMIYA – Seven high school students and one teacher are dead and 30 more injured by an avalanche in Japan’s northeastern,Tochigi Prefecture, local authorities said on Monday.
The students were climbing in an area in Tochigi Prefecture, about 100 miles north of Tokyo. The weather bureau in Tochigi had issued an avalanche warning on Sunday.
The local fire department said that more than 30 other students and teachers were also injured, adding that it received an emergency call alerting it to the avalanche at Nasuonsen Family Ski Resort at around 9:20 a.m.
About 60 students from seven high schools were participating in the mountaineering event, which was held at a local ski resort, the Japanese Times reported. The resort, which closed for the season a week ago, has been in the grip of snowstorms strong enough that rescue helicopters could not initially be dispatched to the avalanche zone on Monday, according to the news reports.
Eight people were found “without vital signs,” the branch of the Tochigi government responsible for dealing with natural disasters said in a news release, using a phrase employed by officials to refer to victims before families are notified and formal death certificates are issued. NHK, the national broadcaster, identified the eight as students from Otawara High School in Tochigi.
Eight other people suffered moderate to severe injuries, the authorities in Tochigi said. As crews worked to find and rescue the survivors, television news footage showed a row of ambulances and other emergency vehicles waiting in the still-falling snow at the base of the resort. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke of the disaster in Parliament, saying officials were “making every effort to respond.”
According to the weather bureau, about a foot of snow fell on the area overnight, and relatively warm temperatures made the accumulation especially unstable.
The newspaper Japan Times, citing school officials in Tochigi, said the climbing event started on Saturday and was to have lasted three days, with the students camping in tents at the ski resort, Nasu Hot Spring Family Ski Area. After instructions in mountaineering on Sunday, they were to climb for several hours on Monday morning.