As Tokyo digs out from heaviest snow since 2014, some transportation disruptions remain

Reuters, Kyodo, Staff Report, AFP-JIJI

Transportation delays persisted in Tokyo on Tuesday as the city dug out from more than 20 cm of snow that had snarled traffic and trapped cars on bridges and in tunnels.

The snowfall — the heaviest since February 2014 — began on Monday morning and tapered off early on Tuesday after dumping some 23 cm on a city that rarely has snow accumulate, with freezing temperatures keeping snow-choked roads slick and pedestrians wary. Thousands of travelers were stranded at Haneda and Narita airports due to flight delays and cancellations.

By Tuesday morning, about 360 people were hurt in Tokyo and six nearby prefectures — Ibaraki, Tochigi, Saitama, Gunma, Chiba and Kanagawa — due to accidents caused by slippery conditions and other factors, authorities including the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.

Four people in Gunma, Saitama and Kanagawa were seriously hurt while clearing snow.

The Tokyo Fire Department put the number of injured people in the city at 229, aged between 16 and 95.

By Tuesday morning, most commuter lines were operating normally, but a number of train services were canceled and some highways remained closed, while airports struggled to clear a backlog of flights.

Canceled flights and transportation closures left more than 9,000 people stuck at Narita airport overnight.

“I slept on the floor last night, but at least my flight to Hawaii will leave later today, so I’m looking forward to that,” a woman told NHK.

About 2,800 people were stuck at Haneda’s international terminal — around four times its normal capacity.

Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and other domestic carriers said over 100 domestic and international flights, mainly those departing from and bound for Haneda and Narita, were canceled.

On Monday night, about 50 cars got stuck on the Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay, while traffic jams set off by heavy snow trapped a number of cars inside a tunnel for as long as 10 hours. Some were forced to leave their vehicles.

NHK said more than 740 traffic accidents due to the snow were reported.

As of 7 a.m., 21 cm of snow had accumulated in central Tokyo, 15 cm in Yokohama and 16 cm in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture.

As the snowfall reached its peak on Monday evening, residents and those working in the capital had to battle through throngs of commuters trying to get home.

“I’m not sure what to do — I hadn’t been expecting this much snow,” Yuko Ogura, a sales agent who works in the wedding and funeral industry, said near Kinshicho Station in Sumida Ward.

Arisa Toda, who works for an IT company near Akihabara, went home early because of the snow. Some from her company left even earlier. “Colleagues of mine with long commutes or who had to pick up children were beginning to leave as it was snowing so much,” she said.

Shoki Konno, a 24-year-old jinrikisha driver who had been on the hunt for customers in front of JR Ryogoku Station since 11 a.m., said “nobody has taken a ride so far.”

“Jinrikisha is an activity that people can enjoy regardless of weather,” he said. “Of course drivers get wet when it rains or snows, but customers are protected by a plastic cover. I will wait for customers here until 8 p.m. — around the time when people who watched the sumo tournament are looking for a nice restaurant around here to have dinner,” he said.

The greater Tokyo area will see lows of minus 6 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, the Meteorological Agency said.

“It’s rare to have sub-zero temperatures for a few days in the Tokyo area, and that would freeze the snow,” agency official Kenji Okada said. “In the past, we have seen a lot of injuries caused by slipping and falling. Simply walking can be dangerous.”