Heavy snow kills 5, disrupts travel in Japan

Historic Nagoya castle in Japan's Aichi prefecture (AFP Photo/-)

Tokyo (AFP) - At least five people have died in heavy snow that has blanketed swathes of Japan, reports said on Thursday, with more than two metres (6ft 7ins) lying in some places and more forecast.

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.

Two men, meanwhile, died in traffic accidents on snow-bound roads, one in Hokkaido and the other in Hiroshima further south, police said.

Another man, 68, was discovered dead outside his home in Niigata on the main island of Honshu, police said, with reports saying he had fallen from the garage roof while removing snow.

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.

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

The mountain town of Tsunan in Niigata prefecture, near the Sea of Japan (East Sea) coast, was smothered in 204 centimetres of snow, with parts of Hokkaido getting as much as 70 centimetres in 24 hours, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

The snow is accompanied by strong gusting winds of up to 140 kilometres (87 miles) 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 centimetres of snow by breakfast time on Friday, the JMA said.