Latest snowstorm in Japan claims two lives, injures over 550

Kyodo

The second major storm in a week dumped heavy snow along the Pacific coast of Japan on Friday, causing the deaths of two people and injuries to more than 550 and extensive disruptions to air, railway and road traffic.

The snow caused 570 injuries so far across the country due to falls and other snow-related accidents, according to a Kyodo News tally.

The two fatalities — one in a car crash and the other when a tractor overturned on snow-covered roads — were reported in Shiga in central and Oita prefecture in southwestern Japan.

By early Saturday morning, as much as 27 cm of snow had fallen in central Tokyo and 28 cm in nearby Yokohama, the weather agency said. Late last week, a winter storm also blanketed metropolitan Tokyo and other parts of the country with some of the heaviest snowfalls in years.

In Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, 91 cm of snow fell, the heaviest snowfall there on records going back to 1894. The previous record in Kofu was 49 cm in January 1998.

By Friday afternoon, 15 cm of snow had fallen in Nara, 7 cm in Nagoya, and 4 cm in Osaka. Snow also accumulated in Tokushima and Takamatsu on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands.

The Saitama Prefecture city of Kumagaya, where there was a heavy snowfall last week, marked 22 cm of accumulation.

The Japan Meteorological Agency urged people to take precautions, saying snow will continue hitting eastern Japan, and forecast that snow will likely turn to rain by Saturday morning in the southern part of the Kanto region.

Late Friday, the agency issued a heavy snowfall warning for central Tokyo, the second warning of its kind and only a week after the first last weekend. Similar warnings were also issued in other parts of the Kanto-Koshin region.

Heavy snow is also expected to hit the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan from Saturday to Sunday, the weather agency said.

Cold air poured into an atmospheric depression which moved off the southern coast of the Japanese archipelago, bringing snow, the weather agency said.

Japan Airlines Co. canceled about 135 domestic flights mostly to and from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, and three international flights, while All Nippon Airways Co. canceled about 130 flights.

By Friday, ANA has also canceled about 30 domestic flights on Saturday, many into and out of Sendai due to strong winds accompanying the snow in the Tohoku region, with JAL also likely to cancel or delay flights.

Some train services on the Tohoku Shinkansen line were suspended Friday while other bullet trains operated at reduced speed along some stretches of the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen lines. Delays of up to an hour on the Tokaido Shinkansen line affected about 369,000 passengers, railway authorities said.

East Japan Railway Co., known as JR East, suspended 47 limited express trains including those operating on the Chuo and Tokaido lines. JR East is expected to suspend one limited express train on the Joban Line on Saturday morning.

Trains in other railways were also either suspended or delayed.

Japan Railway companies said its regular and high-speed trains are scheduled to operate as usual on Saturday.

Many highways across the country were closed to traffic due to heavy snow.

On Friday afternoon, two snow-related accidents occurred on the Tomei Expressway, causing traffic jams stretching over 30-40 kilometers, Central Nippon Expressway Co. said.

One of the two accidents occurred near the Komakado rest area in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture on the Tokyo-bound lane and the other occurred near the Ayuzawa rest area in Yamakita, Kanagawa Prefecture on the Nagoya-bound lane, it said.

During a 24-hour period through Saturday evening, snowfall may reach 60 cm in mountainous areas in the Kanto-Koshin region and Tohoku, and 50 cm in the Tokai region in central Japan, the weather agency said.

The agency said strong winds are expected in eastern Japan through Saturday — and in Tohoku, mainly in coastal areas facing the Pacific, from Saturday through Sunday.