TOKYO – Hundreds of cars and trucks were caught on highways on Friday after heavy rain brought chaos to northwestern Japan.
More than 2,000 vehicles were stranded in the snow on Thursday, according to Nexco East, the company that manages the area’s highways. By 3 p.m. (1 p.m. ET) on Friday, that number had dropped to at least 670.
About 700 rescuers could take until Saturday morning to release them all, according to Nexco East, which is the abbreviation for East Nippon Expressway Company.
“I would like to apologize for the extended period of closure along the Kanetsu Highway caused by the snow and especially for the fact that we have been catching our customers for a long time,” said Nexco East President Toru Obata. in a press conference.
Obata said wet, heavy snow that could not be moved by plows caught large trucks on Wednesday.
“The government will do everything possible to save anyone trapped in their vehicle,” government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said in a briefing.
Troops from the Japan Self-Defense Force delivered food, gasoline and blankets to stranded drivers and helped clear the snow. Firefighters rescued some drivers, including at least three people who were taken to hospital, according to public broadcaster NHK.
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While highway workers in heavily affected areas, such as Niigata prefecture, cleared snow a few meters deep in some places, the Meteorological Agency warned of heavier snow over the weekend along the coast of the Sea of Japan.
Some places rise for up to 80 cm (32 inches) of snow against a background of cold pressure that has affected much of the country.
Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo; Patrick Smith reported from London.
Reuters contributed to the report.