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.
A Hayakawa town hall official said the community simply doesn’t have the manpower to remove the snow, which measures 1 meter high at the lowest point.
At noon on Feb. 17, about 600 passengers remained stranded in trains or at community halls at five stations between Otsuki and Isawa Onsen in Yamanashi Prefecture on the JR Chuo Line since Feb. 14.
Sixty limited express train runs were suspended between Shiotsu and Kofu, both in Yamanashi Prefecture, on Feb. 17, as in the previous days.
The heavy snowfall also trapped 17 people in tunnels in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture. Three of them were rescued on Feb. 17.
According to Tokyo Electric Power Co., 9,200 households in five prefectures in the Kanto region were without electricity as of noon on Feb. 17.
The shelves of many convenience stores were empty in Miyagi and Yamanashi prefectures due to the stalled distribution of goods.
Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. canceled a combined 73 flights on Feb. 16, many of them at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.
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