NIIGATA – Two men were killed while bathing when the roof of the inn they were staying at in Niigata Prefecture collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow, according to police.
Shinodakan inn, in the city of Ojiya, had been damaged by the Oct. 23 earthquake. Its roof collapsed at around 8:15 p.m. Wednesday under the weight of about 1.5 meters of snow, investigators said.
Police said the collapse was probably caused by the impact of roughly 70 cm of snow from an adjacent second-floor rooftop falling onto the roof over the bathing room.
The men were identified as Heiji Ikarashi, 62, who lived in temporary housing near the inn, and Akira Handa, 43, a company employee in the village of Kamihayashi in the prefecture. They were pronounced dead at a hospital.
On Thursday, it was confirmed that Ikarashi died of traumatic shock and Handa suffocated. Officials said they were the first confirmed deaths stemming from snow accumulation in the quake-hit areas.
The accident comes at a time when the prefecture is trying to woo tourists back after a decline in visitors since the earthquakes.
Prefectural officials said Thursday that they would call on inns and other tourist facilities to ensure they have taken adequate measures to ensure safety.
They said they will also instruct municipalities to boost efforts to remove snow from rooftops.
According to an investigation Thursday, the collapse occurred when the Ojiya area was being blanketed by rain and sleet, which added weight to the snow already accumulated.
The two-story wooden inn, built in 1957, was damaged by the strong quakes that hit the area three months ago, sustaining cracks to its roof and walls. The inn and bath are connected by a corridor. The inn had been opening its bath free of charge for quake survivors, according to its employees.
“Buildings in this region are made to be able to withstand the weight of snow to some extent,” a prefectural official said. “Unless we can ascertain whether there was a problem with the repair work (after the quakes) or there was additional damage as a result of aftershocks, we have no way to draw up countermeasures.”
Forty people died as a result of the Niigata temblors and 2,800 others were injured. Some 106,000 buildings were damaged but in many cases people have opted to return to their homes for the winter after making repairs.
Ojiya officials said they had their hands full; less than half of the emergency repairs to homes under a subsidy program have been completed.
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