Tokyo (CNN) – More than 1,000 people in Japan spent Thursday night trapped on a highway in their cars, waiting to get out of a traffic jam with little food or water during a heavy snowstorm.
Reports of the Kanetsu Highway blockade linking Tokyo and Niigata prefectures began to appear on Wednesday. In the early hours of Thursday, authorities closed the entrance to the highway to ease the obstruction.
The problem started after a car got stuck in the snow in the middle of the road, stopping traffic, according to the Nippon Expressway Company (NEXCO), the country’s highway operator.
The central and northern regions of the country had suffered heavy snow that morning, disrupting traffic and causing the loss of power to some communities.
Drivers caught in Japan
Traffic piled up on the stagnant highway; At the peak on Thursday night, the blockade extended to 15 kilometers (about 9.3 miles), NEXCO told CNN. Various parts of the long traffic line were able to move slowly, sometimes stopping again, but some drivers were stuck for more than 40 hours.
The problem continued until Friday; the Tokyo lanes were eventually cleared, but those heading for the capital were still stopped. At noon on Friday, there were another 1,000 cars blocked.
Photos on the road show long rows of stationary cars, many with snow drifts on and around their vehicles, stuck in the middle of snow-covered fields.
On Thursday, there was limited relief, as the first respondents distributed rice balls, bread, biscuits, sweet snacks and 600 bottles of water, as well as thousands of gallons of petrol and diesel.
But it wasn’t enough, with drivers caught in the cold for hours.
Mobilization of the armed forces
“The snow was extremely heavy. As time went on, the cars were buried. I was really scared, “an anonymous driver told Japanese public broadcaster NHK. I finished all my food and drink. Now, to drink water, I have to melt the snow I collect in a plastic bottle.
A 30-year-old woman and a 60-year-old man were rushed to hospital on Thursday with respiratory problems and nausea on Thursday, according to Niigata crisis management officer Tsuyoshi Watanabe. No serious or fatal incidents have been reported so far.
Watanabe added that the prefecture had sent self-defense forces from Japan to provide water, food, petrol and portable toilets for those still trapped on Friday and to help clear the snow.
NEXCO also warns drivers, through social media and radio, to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning while waiting for hours in their cars.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with ministers to discuss the heavy snowfall and called on local officials to work together to restore services and help those affected, NHK reported.