Tokyo: Five more bodies were found near the peak of an erupting Japanese volcano today, as rescuers suspended their search because of the growing danger from toxic gas.
The grim discovery takes to at least 36 the total number of people feared to have died when Mount Ontake erupted without warning during a busy hiking weekend.
A police spokesman told AFP the five bodies were in addition to 31 discovered yesterday.
A Japanese army official who took part in the search said rescuers had been wearing helmets, bullet-proof vests, goggles and masks to protect themselves from any fresh eruption.
"I saw rocks up to probably one metre (3.3 feet) across (that had been thrown through the air by the force of the eruption)," he said, adding the search had been difficult and involved digging through ash.
Heartbreaking stories have begun to emerge from survivors who made it down the mountain as rolling clouds of volcanic debris swept down its flanks, smothering everything in their path.
"Some people were buried in ash up to their knees and the two in front of me seemed to be dead," one woman told the Asahi television network.
Another told how she had heard the last moments of a victim battered by a cascade of rocks.
"There was someone lying outside the hut after being hit in the back," she said. "He was saying 'It hurts, it hurts,' but after about half an hour he went quiet."
Seiichi Sakurai, who had been working at one of the huts around the top of the volcano, told public broadcaster NHK that he had tried his best to help people but could not save them all.
"Ash was constantly falling... Some people were buried alive but I could do nothing but tell (rescuers) about them over the radio," he said.
Another survivor told the Yomiuri newspaper he had seen a boy shouting "It's hot" and "I can't breathe!" near the peak, before the ash clouds brought blackness and silence.
On Monday morning, eight bodies -- both men and women -- were airlifted from the mountain.