Heavy snow hits Japan's northern Hokkaido island, flights cancelled

Vehicles are seen on a snow-covered street in Obihiro in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on Dec 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Vehicles are seen on a snow-covered street in Obihiro in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on Dec 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Northern Japan was in the grip of a blizzard Wednesday as strong winds and heavy snow forced the cancellation of almost 300 flights and buried vehicles in deep drifts, officials and reports said.

More than 70 centimetres (28 inches) of snow had fallen on parts of the northern main island of Hokkaido in the 24 hours to 0500 GMT (1 pm Singapore time), according to the weather agency.

The Hokkaido government has received at least two reports of injuries, including a 52-year-old man who broke his leg as a gust of wind blew shutters off a building.

In another case, a man broke ribs after strong winds overturned his trailer, a local official said.

The snow storm forced two major airlines - All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines - to cancel at least 296 international and domestic flights, Jiji Press reported.

"We are struggling to remove snow from the street," an official in the city of Obihiro told AFP. "As many as 50 vehicles may be trapped in the snow." A rapidly developing low pressure system is also causing storm surges in coastal Hokkaido, the Japan Meteorological Agency warned.

"The city issued an evacuation advisory for 730 households, or about 1,500 people, due to the storm surges" said a spokeswoman in coastal Nemuro city, on the eastern tip of Hokkaido.

"A man at an evacuation site said water levels had risen to about his chest," she said.

Rescuers and coastguards were helping elderly people evacuate by boat, she said.

The city of Nemuro saw winds of 144 kilometres per hour, according to the agency.

The weather agency said the blizzard will continue until Thursday, with up to 120 centimetres of snow by noon in the central Hokuriku region.