Reports of the traffic jam on the Kanetsu Highway linking Tokyo and Niigata prefectures began to appear on Wednesday. Until the early hours of Thursday, authorities closed the entrance to the highway to ease congestion.
jam it started after a car got stuck in deep snow in the middle of the highway, stopping traffic, according to Nippon Expressway Company (NEXCO), the country’s highway operator.
The central and northern regions of the country were hit by heavy snow that morning, disrupting transit and causing the loss of power to some communities.
Accumulated traffic on the blocked highway; at the peak on Thursday night, the blockade extended to 15 kilometers (about 9.3 miles), NEXCO told CNN. Some segments of the long traffic line were able to move slowly with starts and stops, but some drivers remained stuck for more than 40 hours.
The blockade continued until Friday; the lanes coming from Tokyo were finally cleared, but the lanes heading for the capital were still stopped. At noon on Friday, another 1,000 cars were blocked.
Highway photos show long lines of cars not moving, many with piles of snow above and around their vehicles, stuck in the middle of the snow-covered fields.
Limited relief came on Thursday, when emergency services distributed rice balls, bread, biscuits, sweet snacks and 600 bottles of water, as well as thousands of liters of petrol and diesel.
But it wasn’t enough, with drivers stuck in the cold for many more hours.
A 30-year-old woman and a 60-year-old man were transported from the blockade to the hospital for respiratory problems and nausea on Thursday, according to Niigata crisis management officer Tsuyoshi Watanabe. No fatal or serious incidents have been reported so far.
Watanabe added that the prefecture had requested the sending of Japanese Self-Defense Forces to provide water, food, petrol and portable toilets for people still stranded on Friday and to help clear the snow.
NEXCO also warns drivers, through social media and radio, to be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning while waiting in their cars for hours.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with ministers to discuss heavy snowfall, urging local officials to work together to restore services and help those affected, NHK reported.
This story has been updated to reflect that the blockade began on Wednesday.