Snowstorm heads north after leaving 15 dead, hundreds stranded

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

The Meteorological Agency on Sunday urged the public to remain vigilant as a low-pressure system that dumped record snowfall on eastern Japan moved up the northeast coastline.

Heavy snow has caused at least 15 deaths since Friday in seven prefectures: Gunma, Saitama, Yamanashi, Nagano, Shizuoka, Shiga and Oita.

The low-pressure system, which dumped 27 cm of snow on Tokyo and broke snowfall records in other cities, is expected to strengthen by Monday as it approaches the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, threatening to bring heavy snow and strong winds to coastal areas in the north, the agency said.

National Route 18, which runs northwest of the capital through Gunma and Nagano prefectures, was partially closed because hundreds of cars are stuck in thick snow, a local official said. The traffic jam stretches for kilometers, said the official, who was speaking from the resort town of Karuizawa in Nagano.

“We have opened up three community halls nearby for people who fled from stranded cars and are now preparing to offer hot meals,” he said.

“Some drivers have run out of gasoline, so they need temporary shelter,” he added.

The mercury had dipped to as low as minus 3.6 degrees by Sunday morning in Karuizawa, which got a heaping 90 cm of snow, the Meteorological Agency said.

The transport ministry has started delivering water, portable toilets and other emergency aid to stranded drivers, the agency said.

In, Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture, a stranded driver was found dead in his vehicle Saturday morning, the prefectural police said Sunday. Police suspect he froze to death.

In Oyama, Shizuoka Prefecture, some 70 elderly residents remained cut off from help Sunday, prompting the prefecture to request assistance from the Ground Self-Defense Force to clear snow, officials said.

According to town officials, the major roads are largely closed and some of the seniors have been trapped in their homes since Friday. Oyama received more than a meter of snow Saturday.

Meanwhile, a limited express train from JR Nagano Station bound for Nagoya was held up at Yabuhara Station in Kiso, Nagano Prefecture, delaying passengers for 25 hours until early Sunday.

The train left Nagano Station shortly past 6 p.m. on Friday and was due to arrive at Nagoya Station at around 9:30 p.m. that day. But the train stopped at Yabuhara Station shortly past midnight and passengers were forced to stay inside until 1 a.m. Sunday, when it resumed service.

Heating was on inside the train, and JR provided food and water to passengers, but one pregnant woman became sick and was taken away by ambulance, JR officials said.

The train finally arrived at Nagoya Station at around 4 a.m. Sunday.

“I just want to take a rest for a while. I had to cancel all my work for the day,” a 34-year-old businessman said with a sigh at Nagoya Station.