At least 19 people died after a weekend snowstorm in eastern Japan damaged buildings, stranded thousands of train passengers and motorists and cut off supply routes for entire communities, according to reports.
Some roads have been cleared and shelters set up, but the problems are so dire in some areas that members of the Self-Defense Forces have been dispatched to deal with the snow.
The weight of the snow led to the collapse of a connecting corridor, a garage and other structures in Gunma Prefecture, killing seven people.
In Saitama Prefecture, two people died on the morning of Feb. 15 after they were buried under a fallen roof.
The Yamanashi prefecture government on Feb. 15 reported the deaths of two people who apparently froze while trying to walk home after their cars became stuck in the snow.
About 800 households in Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture, were stranded after fallen trees blocked roads into the town. SDF personnel on Feb. 17 were clearing the routes.
The SDF is also providing relief work in the Subashiri district of Oyama, Shizuoka Prefecture.
In western Tokyo, all 2,460 residents in Hinohara were temporarily isolated after roads to the village were closed on the night of Feb. 14.
Many sections on expressways were also shut down, halting traffic and disrupting the distribution of supplies.
The Tomei Expressway was closed in the early hours of Feb. 15 but became passable again at 10 p.m. on Feb. 16 following progress in snow removal.
According to Central Nippon Expressway Co., about 400 vehicles were stuck in deep snow on a section of the Central Expressway in Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Feb. 15.
At the Usui bypass on National Route No. 18, which links the western part of Gunma Prefecture and Nagano Prefecture, about 250 vehicles were trapped. As of 9 a.m. on Feb. 17, about 70 of the motorists had taken refuge at six evacuation centers set up in Annaka, Gunma Prefecture.
One of them was a 60-year-old from Suzaka, Nagano Prefecture, who got caught in the snowstorm after visiting Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, on business.
He spent two nights in his car before heading to an evacuation center on the morning of Feb. 17.
“I am supposed to go to work from today, but I don’t know when I can return to the office,” he said. “I am tired due to lack of sleep.”
In Hayakawa in southwestern Yamanashi Prefecture, about 670 households remained cut off from supplies as of the morning of Feb. 17. The only road leading to the town was closed three days ago.
The town has requested help from the SDF.
“I have been unable to go out to buy food since Feb. 14,” said a 23-year-old female worker at the town hall. “I have only a day or two worth of supplies left.”
Half of the town’s population is 65 years old or older.
Credit to Asashi Simbun