At least one dead, travel chaos as more heavy snow hits Japan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 10:40pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 10:40pm

Heavy snowfall continued in a wide area along the Sea of Japan coast on Saturday, leading to the death of a truck driver and stranding a train and some 250 motor vehicles in Tottori Prefecture, authorities said.

A cold front swept the Japanese archipelago with the weather agency forecasting continued heavy snow on Sunday, especially in areas along the coast in northeastern and western Japan. Authorities warned people to be wary of black ice on roads and snow accumulations falling from electric wires and trees.

In the city of Tottori, snowfall reached 91cm, topping 90cm for the first time in 33 years, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The unusual snowfall seriously disrupted operations of the Sanin Line of West Japan Railway, forcing 26 passengers to sleep in a train overnight at Aoya Station in the city as it was unable to move because snow and trees fell onto the tracks between Tottori and Yonago stations.

Train operations resumed around 6:30pm, ending a suspension that lasted for some 22 hours since Friday evening, according to the operator widely called JR West.

Some 250 motor vehicles were stranded on snowy roads including Route 9, a thoroughfare in the prefecture, on Saturday, the land ministry and the prefectural government said.

“I’ve cancelled all plans such as a tour of the Tottori Sand Dunes. I’m worried whether I can get home safely,” said Momoko Nishijima, a 21-year-old college student from Kumamoto who was involved in the road incident.

A businessman in his 40s complained of tepid work by traffic authorities, saying, “We have no information here and fatigue has only increased. They’ve learned almost nothing from similar incidents caused by snow on Route 9 in the past.”

Early Saturday in the city, 44-year-old Yoshio Miake died after becoming trapped under a tire of his large truck when he was trying to free it from snow at an intersection, police said.

Over the 24-hour period through 6pm Sunday, up to 60cm of snow is forecast to fall in many regions in the west and east as well as an area on the Sea of Japan coast, according to the agency.

The snow temporarily disrupted bullet train transportation on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines as trains were forced to travel at reduced speeds on certain sections of track, causing service delays, operators said.

Snow even accumulated in the southwestern region of Kyushu, with the city of Saga recording 5cm and the city of Fukuoka seeing 1cm.