Heavy snow causes travel chaos in Japan, South Korea

Frigid winter weather gripped East Asia for the second straight day on Wednesday, causing several deaths and multiple injuries in Japan and a scramble for flights out of South Korea’s resort island of Jeju following delays by snowstorms.

Heavy snow and record cold temperatures brought widespread disruptions in Japan.

South Korea’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety did not immediately report any major damage or injuries from subzero temperatures and icy conditions that have affected most of the country since Tuesday.

But at least eight roads and 10 sea routes remained closed as of Wednesday afternoon. About 140 homes in the capital Seoul and nearby regions reported broken water pressure pumps or pipes as temperatures dipped to around -15 C to —20 C across the mainland.

Trucks are seen stuck due to heavy snow on the Shin-Meishin Expressway in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, Japan on Wednesday. (JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

A man died in Oita, southern Japan, after being hit by a fallen tree, and two more deaths in the northern prefecture of Niigata were being investigated in connection with the cold weather, officials said.

Two other people were found without vital signs in Okayama, western Japan. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki told reporters that the deaths could be linked to accidents while removing snow and urged residents to refrain from such activities when nobody else is around to help in case of an emergency.

About 400 homes around the country were without electricity due to power line damage caused by fallen trees, the Economy and Industry Ministry said. It said traffic disruptions caused by the snow also caused delivery delays at convenience stores in western Japan.

Thousands of people using train services in Kyoto and Shiga prefectures in western Japan were forced to stay overnight in carriages or stations, and 13 were taken to hospitals, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. Vehicles on major roads across the country were left stranded and hundreds of flights cancelled. Kyoto prefecture reported more than 30 injuries, mostly by falling.

Travelers stranded

Air traffic returned to normal after hundreds of flights in and out of Jeju were grounded on Tuesday because of strong winds and snow, stranding an estimated 40,000 travelers who had visited the resort island for the Lunar New Year holidays.

Around 540 flights, including nearly 70 that were temporarily added by transportation authorities in an emergency response, were scheduled in and out of Jeju on Wednesday alone, mostly to take passengers back to mainland cities.

The Korea Airports Corporation said the operating hours at Gimpo airport near Seoul were extended until 1 am local time to accommodate the increased flights, which were expected to bring back 70 to 80 per cent of the passengers who were stuck in Jeju.

People sit on a train that stopped due to a power outage in Kyoto, Japan.
A train stops due to a power outage at Nishioji Station in Kyoto, western Japan, on Wednesday. Snow and cold weather were affecting much of Japan on Wednesday, disrupting highway, air and train travel, and more snow and cold temperatures were forecast. (Kyodo News/The Associated Press)

The island has seen more than 19 centimetres of snow since Tuesday morning, while southern mainland cities and towns such as Gwangju and Gangjin reported around 10 to 12 centimetres of snow. More than 70 centimeters of snow fell on the small eastern island of Ulleung.

The winter storms appeared to be moving toward the greater Seoul area and nearby regions, where heavy snow was expected from late Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, according to the Safety Ministry, which warned about dangerous road conditions.

Officials in Gyeonggi province, which surrounds Seoul, said nearly 7,000 cold-weather shelters will be opened across the region and that several thousand tons of snow-clearing chemicals would be used to improve the safety of roads that may turn icy.

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