Six killed, over 1,000 injured as heavy snow continues to shatter records

Kyodo, JIJI

Heavy snow continued to frost eastern Japan on Saturday, leaving at least six people dead and more than 1,000 injured and rewriting snowfall records in several cities.

Tokyo had received 27 cm of snow as of Saturday morning, the fourth-largest amount in the postwar period and rivaling the amount logged just a week ago.

The snow is disrupting travel and causing transport accidents across the country.

One person died early Saturday in a five-vehicle accident on the Tomei Expressway in the city of Shizuoka that was apparently caused by snow, local police said. Following the accidents, the Tomei and other expressways in the Tokyo area were closed Saturday morning.

Three other people died Saturday in Gunma, Saitama and Nagano prefectures when ceilings collapsed on them, reportedly under the weight of snow.

On Friday, two people died in car crashes on snow-covered roads in Shiga and Oita prefectures, raising snow-linked fatalities to six, according to a Kyodo News tally.

Meanwhile, avalanches were reported at several spots along a major road connecting Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures.

As of Saturday afternoon, the storm had dumped a record 57 cm of snow in Shiroishi, Miyagi Prefecture, and 54 cm on the city of Fukushima, the fourth-largest amount there since record-keeping began.

Airlines also took a hit, with about 4,500 people forced to spend Friday night at Tokyo’s Haneda airport after several flight were canceled.

Mitsuki Tanigawa, 39, an employee from Osaka Prefecture who spent the night at Haneda, was exasperated. “I slept on a bench last night. I’m totally exhausted,” he said.

A 53-year-old man from Miyazaki Prefecture said he couldn’t even find a bench and had to sleep on the airport’s floor. “I have business in Miyazaki today,” he complained.

At Tokyo Station, people going to Nagano and Niigata for skiing were left in limbo Saturday morning after bullet train runs were canceled or delayed by snow.

“We’ve been waiting since 6 a.m. for train services to resume,” said Ryo Sato, 38, who was taking his family to the Naeba ski resort in Niigata Prefecture.

The day before, about 160,000 passengers on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line had experienced delays of up to an hour, Japan Railway officials said.

In Tokyo’s normally packed Asakusa district, few visitors were seen Saturday as the snow kept tourists away. “This weather will surely hurt our business,” said Yuji Yamada, a 64-year-old employee at a local sukiyaki restaurant.

The Meteorological Agency expected heavy snow to continue falling Saturday in the Kanto-Koshin region and Sunday in Tohoku, and has issued blizzard and tidal wave warnings. The heavy snow was caused by cold air pouring into an atmospheric depression that moved off the southern coast of the archipelago.

Cities that rewrote their snowfall records included Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, which was bombarded by 114 cm, Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, which got 73 cm, Iida, Nagano Prefecture, with 81 cm, Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture with 62 cm, Shiroishi, Miyagi Prefecture, with 42 cm, and Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, which saw 32 cm.

The snowfall in Kofu more than doubled its previous record of 49 cm set in January 1998. In the city, cars were left stranded here and there.

“I came to Kofu yesterday for my part-time job but was unable to go home,” said a 19-year-old woman from nearby Nirasaki. “So I spent the night on a (stranded) train. I want to go home and get some rest as soon as possible.”

During a 24-hour period through Sunday morning, snowfall may reach 70 cm in mountainous parts of Tohoku and 60 cm in the Kanto-Koshin region.

The heavy snow forced Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to cancel a planned visit to Fukushima Prefecture on Saturday.