- Bad weather halts search for more bodies on Mount Ontake
- Of the 47 known victims, 42 bodies have now been identified, Japanese police said
- Mount Ontake began erupting Saturday, unleashing a cloud of ash that engulfed hikers
- Seismologists warn that another big eruption could take place in the coming days
The search for bodies from an erupting volcano in central Japan was suspended Thursday as weather conditions deteriorated.
Officials are concerned that heavy rainfall could increase the threat of an avalanche of accumulated ash on Mount Ontake.
As of Thursday morning, 47 bodies had been recovered from the mountain, with 42 people identified so far, according to Nagano prefectural police.
Ontake unleashed a huge cloud of ash late Saturday morning that billowed down the mountainside and engulfed hikers in its path. Witnesses described hearing a sound like thunder when the eruption began.
Authorities estimated there were 200 to 250 hikers in the area at the time of the eruption. Most of them were reported to have managed to make the long trek down the mountain.
But some people remained trapped in several lodges on Ontake, and others were missing altogether, local authorities said.
Hundreds join search
Soldiers from Japan's Self Defense Force (SDF) have joined hundreds of police and firefighters in the search this week, with 11 helicopters deployed to carry bodies from the mountain's slopes.
Though some of the victims were still being examined by the local coroner, the cause of death for those officially pronounced dead was recorded as injury from direct hits by volcanic cinders, police said.
The Japan Meteorological Agency -- which has raised the Volcanic Alert Level for Ontake from 1 to 3, meaning the public is advised to not approach the volcano -- has warned that another large eruption could take place in the next few days.
Mount Ontake, at 10,060 feet (3,067 meters), is the second tallest volcano in Japan after Mount Fuji, and a popular destination for hikers, especially in the fall when richly-colored autumn foliage is on display.
The last major eruption of Ontake, which is about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Tokyo, took place in 1979, according to the Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian Institute.
That eruption lasted months, spewing out more than 200,000 tons of ash, Japanese news agency Kyodo reported.