Heavy snow causes havoc in Japan as cold snap sweeps through Asia

National roads could be closed for snow to be removed, the transport ministry said. PHOTO: AFP
A woman posing for a photo on the snow-covered steps of the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP
The Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto covered with snow on Wednesday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO - Heavy snow blanketed wide swathes of Japan on Wednesday, snarling traffic, forcing hundreds of flight cancellations and disrupting train travel, leaving at least one person dead.

An unusually cold weather front and extreme low pressure systems set snow falling and strong winds blowing across Japan from Tuesday after causing havoc in other Asian countries earlier this week.

At least 124 people died in freezing temperatures in Afghanistan earlier this week, according to media reports, while the temperature in Heilongjiang province’s Mohe, China’s northernmost city, dropped to a record minus 53 deg C on Sunday.

In South Korea, resort island Jeju cancelled nearly 500 flights in and out of its airport on Tuesday amid harsh winter weather.

Japan reported that snow was particularly heavy on the side of the country facing South Korea, with the city of Maniwa hit with a record 93cm in just 24 hours.

One person has died due to the adverse conditions in south-west Japan’s Oita prefecture, and two people in Okayama prefecture were found without vital signs, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said on Wednesday at a news conference in Tokyo.

The deaths of two more people in Niigata prefecture, north of the capital, are also being investigated in connection with the cold weather, Kyodo News agency cited him as saying.

Domestic airlines including ANA and Japan Airlines cancelled 450 flights, while 490 highway areas were blocked and 57 railway services including a high-speed rail service were suspended nationwide, the transport ministry said.

Toyota Motor said it was suspending the second shift at all 14 factories in Japan on Wednesday due to disruption from the heavy snowfall around the country.

Some 3,000 people were stranded at two train stations in the western city of Kyoto after snow and high winds forced service to be suspended on Tuesday. Some passengers were forced to sleep on the floor at Kyoto’s main station. Others were stuck on at least 15 trains between stations, in some cases from late on Tuesday to the early hours of Wednesday.

Police working to clear ice on the streets of Kyoto on Wednesday after heavy snow and strong winds overnight affected wide areas of Japan. PHOTO: AFP

Strong winds connected to the storm may have caused the sinking of a Hong Kong-registered cargo ship between western Japan and South Korea’s Jeju island early on Wednesday.

The bitter cold weather is expected to continue through Thursday. Amid concerns of further snowfall including in low-lying areas on the Pacific coast, Japan’s weather agency is calling for vigilance against blizzards, rough seas and icy roads.  REUTERS

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