Snow in Japan traps 1,000 drivers in frozen traffic jam

Vehicles are stranded on the snow-covered Kanetsu expressway in Minamiuonuma in Niigata Prefecture,
Vehicles are stranded on the snow-covered Kanetsu expressway

Rescuers are trying to free more than 1,000 vehicles which have been stranded on a highway for two days after a heavy snow storm struck Japan. Authorities have distributed food, fuel and blankets to the drivers on the Kanetsu expressway, which connects the capital Tokyo to Niigata, in the north.

The snow, which began on Wednesday evening, has caused multiple traffic jams along the road, it has also left more than 10,000 homes in the north and west without power. A Kyodo News report said that there were multiple reports of congestion at different points of the Kanetsu expressway. The gridlock began when a trailer got stuck in snow on Wednesday night. Another Kyodo report, quoting police and highway operator East Nippon Expressway Co, said the traffic jam had stretched up to 16.5km (10 miles) along the road at one point.

Officials have been using a combination of heavy machinery and physical labour to dig out the vehicles one by one, but around 1,000 cars were still stranded on the road as of Friday noon. “We are trying our best to rescue drivers and passengers, we are ready to continue the operation through the night,” a Niigata disaster management official told AFP on Thursday night.

Vehicles are stranded on the snow-covered Kanetsu expressway in Minamiuonuma in Niigata Prefecture,
Food, fuel and blankets were distributed to drivers

Another similar traffic jam also occurred in the nearby Joshinetsu Expressway which saw 300 vehicles stranded, that gridlock lasted from Wednesday to Thursday morning, according to the meteorological agency, the heavy snow – said to be this year’s most intense cold spell is expected to continue through the weekend. The country’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga has called an emergency cabinet meeting and urged the public to be cautious. The snow storm comes as Japan is battling a third wave of coronavirus cases, which has put unprecedented pressure on the country’s hospitals.

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