Seven high school students and a teacher have died and more than 40 people have been injured after an avalanche hit ski slopes in Japan.
A total of 52 students and 11 teachers from seven high schools were taking part in a three-day mountaineering expedition near the Nasu Onsen resort, 93 miles north of Tokyo, when the incident occurred at about 9.20am on Monday.
“I cannot have peace of mind until I see the students’ faces,” the deputy headteacher of one of the affected schools told the Yomiuri newspaper.
Japan’s Self-Defense Forces have been asked to help with the disaster response. The prime minister, Shinzō Abe, said the government would ensure the rescue was a top priority.
The avalanche followed heavy snowfall overnight.
More than 1ft (30cm) of snow accumulated in the Nasu highlands between midnight and 9am, according to Japan Meteorological Agency data.
One unidentified student told broadcaster NHK by telephone that there was a strong wind and he could see a white mass heading toward him. An instructor said to get down, and then everyone was engulfed, he said.
Official avalanche advisories remained in force in the area on Monday.
Robert Speta, a meteorologist for NHK World, said Tochigi prefecture had experienced an increase in unusual snow in recent days despite it being late March. This snow combined with rising temperatures increased the avalanche risk, he said.