Death toll climbs as heavy snow grips northern Japan


Heavy snow that has blanketed northern Japan for weeks, triggering avalanches and affecting transport networks, has left at least 55 people dead, officials said Thursday.

In one of the country's coldest winters in recent years, 43 people have died as they removed snow from roofs or roads, while seven more were crushed by heavy loads of snow falling from buildings or other structures, the disaster management agency said.

Four people have died in avalanches, with the latest snow slide reported in Akita Prefecture at a popular mountain resort known for therapeutic hot-spring baths, which left three holidaymakers dead.

The 43-meter-wide avalanche occurred at around 5 p.m. at a bedrock bathing facility inside a tent some 600 meters from the hotel at the Tamagawa resort in the mountains, NHK reported. Rescuers found the three, two women and a man aged 59, 63 and 65, beneath 1.5 meters of snow just before 7 p.m. All were unconscious and in a state of cardiac arrest. They were taken to hospital where they were pronounced dead a short time later.

The area had two meters of snow on Wednesday, officials said. The bathing facility was located near a slope. A resort spokesperson was quoted by NHK as saying that avalanches are very rare because the geothermal heat from the hot springs usually prevents snow from piling up.

Local police and rescuers continued their search Thursday "to confirm there are no others buried in the snow," a local police spokeswoman said.

Heavy snow has covered Hokkaido and much of the north of Honshu, particularly affecting the country's eastern side.

Sukayu, in northern Aomori Prefecture, where the temperature went down as low as minus 9.2 degrees Celsius on Thursday, recorded 4.29 meters of snow.

Yamagata and Niigata prefectures have had more than three meters of snow, the weather agency said.

Atrocious conditions have led to the cancellation of flights and numerous train delays, including to parts of the shinkansen bullet train system.

© Japan Today/AFP

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While avalanches may be rare in the area, the amount of snow that has been falling over the past few weeks should have put resorts like this in a higher state of awareness of the potential for avalanches to occur.

At a minimum they should be checking daily the areas where they could occur and take prevent action. I'll bet they start checking now, shutting the barn door after the horse is out mentality.

To not do so is pure negligence in my opinion.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

All were unconscious and taken to hospital. Officials said they were in a state of cardiac arrest and died a short time later.

Would we stop with these absurdities? They were PRONOUNCED DEAD a short time later. It is implausible that they were under snow for two hours, were found with no pulse and then LATER died.

1 ( +10 / -8 )

Pronounced dead is a formal procedure that goes with issuing death certificates. It doesn't mean they weren't dead when they were found.

4 ( +6 / -3 )

That's terrifying... One of my greatest fears. My condolences to the families of the victims.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Tamagawa is that radioactive resort where people go with cancer. What a tragedy.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@Nessie... until a body is WARM and without heart beat... it is not necessarily a dead one. Sudden hypothermia can sometimes be protective of a patient, though this is more common in children than in adults, so, it’s medical tradition not to declare someone dead until they’re back to normal temperature.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Three people and cardiac arrest? Bull dinky

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Horrible stuff, but I have to say it sounds completely preventable. The hotspring owners should be legally obliged to check the area for the treat of such avalanches when snow is falling as it has this year, and if necessary shut down the baths that are in danger. In any case, RIP to the victims.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

This is the first winter since last years 3/11 disasters. With the original powerful earthquake and the 6,000+ which followed its possible the mountain surfaces are no longer stable especially with a heavy snow?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

What a horrible, horrible way to die! I love the Japanese hot springs but I sure don't want to die there frozen under an avalanche of COLD, COLD heavy SNOW! My guess, this onsen owner has criminal negligence and there should be a complete criminal investigation to try and prevent this sort of thing ever happening again. Yes, RIP my fellow onsen lovers!

-10 ( +3 / -13 )

shiz omg that sux! RIP (T_T)

-8 ( +0 / -7 )

It happened in a bathing facility? 600m from the hotel building? And the owner doesn't feel obliged to check the conditions around their facilities?

Totally agree with Elbuda's remarks - full investigation!

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

One thing's for sure - the owner of the resort is going to be in hot water with the authorities for this.

-5 ( +4 / -8 )

I also doubt that the resort will be snowed under with bookings, for the rest of the season.

-4 ( +2 / -5 )

I don't think any criminal charges will be pressed here, since it was a freak accident.

Thing is, customers who would read about this would think twice about going there in the near future.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

so, it’s medical tradition not to declare someone dead until they’re back to normal temperature.

I realize this. But in this case, the reporter should write that they were prounced dead. The way its written, it sounds as if the reporter knew they were alive and knew that death occurred later. If we don't know that, then we should write that they were pronounced dead. That's not what the reporter wrote. The reporter is writing as if he or she has some sixth sense that knows for a fact when death occurs.

2 ( +3 / -0 )

I wish JT would not change the stories once they are already posted. Start a new article!!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

tmarie thank you! I was looking for the osen thread too!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Japan is having its coldest, snowiest winter in years, ditto Eastern Europe... so to balance things out, who's getting the nice mild winter?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

America is having its warmest. So much for global warming.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Used to live at lake-effect snow. This reminds me of that......brrrrrrrrrr..............

0 ( +0 / -0 )

America is having its warmest. So much for global warming. Duh! Warmer air means more snow in winter.Air can hold more water vapor at warmer temperatures.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Its been above freezing most of the winter here in Ontario. This winter is messed up.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Too much snow falling on roofs and if they do not do anything, the roof will collapse on them. Some of these people probably can not afford a professional snow remover. I mean a handyman to climb the roof and remove the snow from the top. With so much snow, if all of it starts melting at a fast pace in spring, that could pose another problem of sudden flooding. I think Japan should declare some of these highly affected places disaster areas and activate the self-defense forces to help clear snow from the roads and homes. My two cents worth.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

They were taken to hospital where they were pronounced dead a short time later.

Dear Mod , Thank you for that change. Now I can get some sleep! ;)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I saw on the news that many people have died while trying to clear off the snow from their roofs. Apparently the heavy snow on the roof can put the house at risk from collapsing...

What I want to know is why haven't rounded, stronger roofs become the standard in these places?

You'd think after hundreds of years of hard experience they'd have found a better design.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

JapanGalFeb. 02, 2012 - 07:25PM JST America is having its warmest. So much for global warming.

Who says? We're having a la nina winter. The jet stream tends to split N-S. Typical of a la nina winter, the PNW, Northern Rockies and upper Midwest got early snow and cold weather in November. It snowed over 5' in 72 hours last week at Mt. Bachelor in the Central Oregon Cascades. The Seattle area had nearly a foot of snow on the ground for about a week in the second week of January.

Similarly, skiing is great in Arizona and New Mexico this year. The Sierra Nevadas and Central Rockies, including the Wasatch, were low on snow through December, but now are up to seasonal totals.

Europe is gripped in cold right now, but had a warmer and drier than normal winter last year.

Global warming raises temperatures overall, but it's most pronounced effect is causing weather extremes - torrential rains, snow storms that dump massive amounts of snow and more frequent and powerful hurricanes and cyclones.

Akita is yuki-guni. It gets heavy wet snowfall every winter.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

they need to buy some cannons. before a mountainside can build up dangerous amounts of snow you just blast it! works quite well for washington state mountain passes. just thought i'd throw that idea out there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Nessie... until a body is WARM and without heart beat... it is not necessarily a dead one. Sudden hypothermia can sometimes be protective of a patient, though this is more common in children than in adults, so, it’s medical tradition not to declare someone dead until they’re back to normal temperature.

I'm going to assume they were in the onsen at the time of the avalanche. If so, their bodies would have been kept warm by the hot spring for the two hours they were under the snow. On the minus side, the snow would have forced them underwater. Death by drowning.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Were these unfortunates so weak they could not break through 4 feet of snow? Guess the answer is "yes" but it seems weird to me. And, totally agree with choi* that there should be no reason for people to have to shovel off snow from their roofs. Built steeper roofs like thatched roofs have/had for centuries. Keep Grandpa alive a few more winters and safe inside.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Too cold to get out of bed today!

0 ( +0 / -0 )


It was an avalanche, which means the snow suddenly buried the three under 4 feet of snow. While you can say "only 4 feet?", remember that once an avalanche covers you up, there's almost no room to move around, and almost no source of air.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Death by drowning.

No. This was not a hot spring onsen... this was a 'ganbanyoku.' It's a naturally heated slab of rock that you lie on top of, wrapped in a blanket or towel.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hahaha, I've been in places where there's so much snow buildup throughout the season, that you can walk on snow pile-up from the sidewalk up to the roof of a 2-floor house!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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