Five dead, more than 600 injured as heavy snow hits Japan

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Heavy snow and severe weather struck Tokyo and other areas across Japan on Saturday, leaving five dead and more than 600 injured, reports said.

More than 740 flights were grounded as the weather agency issued a severe storm warning for the capital, while more than 40,000 households lost power.

The Japan Meteorological Agency issued the first heavy snowfall warning for central Tokyo in 13 years. Snow accumulation reached 27 cm, the heaviest snow in the Japanese capital since February 1994 and the fourth largest snowfall since World War II, the agency said.

Public broadcaster NHK said the snow-related accidents in eastern Japan including 17 serious injuries.

It also said two female passengers, aged 88 and 90, died on Saturday in a car accident on their way to a nursing home in Ishikawa, central Japan. Police suspect one of the cars skidded on the icy road and caused the head-on collision.

A man was also killed in Nagano as a train smashed into his car at a railroad crossing, the broadcaster said, adding that 3,200 other accidents occurred across the nation caused by vehicles skidding in the icy conditions.

Through Sunday morning, as much as 50 cm of snow is expected in the Kanto-Koshin area and 40 cm in various areas from western to eastern Japan, according to the agency.

The agency issued a heavy snow warning for Tokyo, the first such warning for the capital in 13 years, calling on residents not to go out unless necessary. The agency also warned of strong winds and high waves in eastern Japan.

At Tokyo’s Haneda airport, Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. suspended all domestic flights from noon and 3 p.m., respectively, affecting about 98,000 people.

The Tokaido and Sanyo bullet trains operating in central and western Japan fell behind schedule as they operated at reduced speed, affecting nearly 290,000 travelers, the operators said.

Sections of expressways, including the Shin-Tomei and Chuo expressways, were also closed due to the snow. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said 48,000 households in the Kanto region were without power Saturday night due to heavy snow.

In Tokyo, several universities delayed the starting times of their entrance examinations for the new academic year starting in April.

Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest broadcasting tower at 634 meters, was closed from 11 a.m. due to strong winds, its operator said.