Heavy snow in Japan leaves 3 dead, halts transit

Three people have died as a result of heavy snow caused by a strong low pressure system on Wednesday and Thursday, which also disrupted public transportation systems in Hokkaido and other areas mainly along the Sea of Japan.

A 74-year-old woman died after being buried in the collapse of a barn in Makubetsu, Hokkaido, and an 83-year-old woman was fatally hit by a snowplow in Kushiro in the prefecture.

In Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture, a 68-year-old man was found lying in the snow near a garage near his house at about 8 p.m. Wednesday. He was later confirmed dead at a hospital.

As some snow on the garage roof had been removed, police believe the man may have fallen while clearing it off. Snow had piled up to a height of 188 centimeters in the town as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Meteorological Agency.

The agency said a maximum wind velocity of 32.6 meters per second was observed at about 12:30 a.m. Thursday in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, while 28.2 meters per second was recorded at about 3 a.m. on the day in Wakkanai, Hokkaido.

As heavy snow continued in major areas, the 24-hour snowfall measurement surpassed 90 centimeters on Thursday morning in Kamikawa, Hokkaido. Roughly the same level was observed at 10 a.m. Thursday in Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture.

Some areas on the Pacific side also had snow, such as Nagoya, where 23 centimeters of snowfall was recorded as of 7 a.m. Thursday.

As more snow was expected, an evacuation advisory was issued Thursday morning to 730 households comprising 1,594 residents in Nemuro, according to the Hokkaido prefectural government. As of 10 a.m. on Thursday, 69 evacuation shelters had been set up in 22 municipalities of Hokkaido to accommodate 222 people, including those whose cars had gotten stuck in the severe snowstorm.

About 400 households, mainly in eastern Hokkaido, suffered power outages on Thursday.

Public transportation systems were disrupted around the nation.

Two Tohoku Shinkansen trains were taken out of service when a railroad switch at Shiroishi-Zao Station in Shiroishi, Miyagi Prefecture, failed to operate due to the heavy snow. The Joetsu, Nagano, Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen lines experienced more than 20 cancellations combined.

In Nagano Prefecture, a limited express train on the JR Shinonoi Line heading to Nagano Station collided with a passenger vehicle that was stalled at a railroad crossing at about 1:35 a.m. Thursday, according to local police and East Japan Railway Co.'s Nagano branch office.

The first car of the train jumped the tracks, but none of the 84 riders were injured. The passenger vehicle's driver, a 77-year-old man, exited the car before the crash and also escaped injury.

It was reportedly snowing at the time of the accident, with about 10 to 15 centimeters of accumulated snow.

All Nippon Airways decided to cancel 62 flights and Japan Airlines 37 flights on Thursday morning, affecting about 6,300 people. On Wednesday, ANA cancelled about 250 flights and JAL about 130 flights.