Heavy snow kills three, disrupts travel in Japan

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) - At least three people have died in heavy snow that has blanketed swathes of Japan, with up to 2m of snow in some places and more predicted.

Two elderly women were killed on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, Kyodo News reported, with one hit by a snow-plough and another buried when a warehouse collapsed under the weight of fallen snow.

Police said a man died in a traffic accident on snow-bound roads in Hiroshima.

There was also widespread disruption to travel, with around 100 domestic flights cancelled, adding to the 450 that were grounded on Wednesday, including some international routes, officials and media said. Changi Airport says no flights between Singapore and Japan have been affected.

Reports said the famous bullet train network was also struggling to stick to its timetables.

The mountain town of Tsunan, near the Sea of Japan (East Sea) coast, was smothered in 185cm of snow, with parts of Hokkaido getting as much as 70cm in 24 hours, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

The snow is accompanied by strong gusting winds of up to 140 km an hour, which is causing tidal surges and sparking warnings to stay away from the water's edge.

Forecasters said a powerful low pressure system off the eastern coast of Hokkaido was bringing much of the misery, and warned there was more to come.

Parts of northern Honshu could expect up to 80 cm of snow by breakfast time on Friday, the JMA said.