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

Trucks are seen stuck due to heavy snow on the Shin-Meishin Expressway in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, on Wednesday. - AFP
Trucks are seen stuck due to heavy snow on the Shin-Meishin Expressway in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, on Wednesday. - AFP

TOKYO: Heavy snow blanketed wide swathes of Japan on Wednesday, snarling traffic, forcing hundreds of flight cancellations, disrupting train travel and 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 Asia 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 Mohe, China's northernmost city, dropped to a record -53 degrees Celsius on Sunday.

In South Korea, the country's 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 93 cm in just 24 hours.

One person died as a result of the storm and two other deaths were being investigated as related to the storm as of Wednesday morning, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference. No further details were immediately available.

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 Corp 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.

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. Thirteen of the 22 crew members had been rescued by noon on Wednesday and the search was continuing.

The bitter weather is expected to continue through Thursday. - Reuters

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