Blizzard disrupts traffic in Japan, causes casualties

14:04, January 01, 2011      

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Blizzard and extreme weather disrupted traffic in western and northern Japan as people headed back to their hometowns for the New Year, and caused casualties in some parts of the country.

Four men on patrol at a ski resort in the town of Kofu, Tottori Prefecture in western Japan, were killed in an avalanche Friday, local authorities said.

The victims were found buried in snow following the avalanche, which occurred at around 1 p.m. at Okudaisen ski resort, according to officials of the Kofu municipal government and the resort. Their deaths were confirmed in hospital.

The ski resort officials said the four were hit by an avalanche, along with a snow-compressing vehicle, when they went to check a ski slope that had been hit by another avalanche shortly before.

The heavy snow and an accident paralyzed traffic in Totorri. About 1,000 cars were stuck over a distance of around 20 kilometers on a national road in the prefecture, local officials said Saturday.

The traffic jam was triggered when a tanker skidded on Route 9 in the town of Daisen on Friday afternoon and blocked both sides of the road, and the congestion worsened as large amounts of snow continued to fall in the area, the officials said.

The prefectural government said it set up a taskforce late Friday night and asked for the Ground Self-Defense Force to help provide supplies, such as blankets and fuel for people in the vehicles.

The Self-Defense Forces dispatched about 30 personnel, who were initially set to begin support activities around 4 a.m. Saturday, but their work was delayed for about six hours, according to Kyodo News.

In addition, traffic was clogged over some 10 km on Route 9 in neighboring Shimane Prefecture in the western Japanese region facing the Sea of Japan, Kyodo News reported.

Snow also caused a local express train, which had stopped between two stations in Daisen due to a fallen tree around 4 p.m. Friday, to remain stranded with about 130 passengers as of 9 a.m. Saturday, it said, quoting West Japan Railway Co.

Accumulations of over 100 centimeters of snow were recorded Friday in parts of Aomori, Yamagata in the north and Niigata and Hiroshima prefectures in the west.

Strong winds of more than 100 kilometers per hour were registered in parts of Kagoshima and Aomori prefectures, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Nearly a hundred flights to these areas had been canceled, while services on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line were delayed, according to operators.

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned a strong wintry pressure pattern is likely to continue in the New Year, with additional snowfall on the Sea of Japan side of western to northern Japan through Sunday.

Source: Xinhua
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