Wed, Jan 11, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Japanese troops struggle to supply stranded villages


Soldiers battled through snow yesterday to reach nearly 200 households cut off for two days in the mountains of central Japan in a record cold snap that has left 71 people dead.

Authorities worried they were running short of fuel and students missed classes as towns were buried by roof-high snowfall unusual even for Japan's frigid winters.

"We've got so much snow we don't even have the space to pile up the snow that's being plowed away," a teacher in one of the isolated towns told NHK.

The villages of Tsunanmachi in central Niigata Prefecture and Sakaemura in neighboring Nagano Prefecture have been isolated for two days as traffic was halted on National Highway 405 due to fear of avalanches.

Thirty-six soldiers from the Japanese army's disaster relief unit brought in snow excavation machinery to join forces with local government workers to try to bring supplies to the towns.

The soldiers failed to cut through the blizzard on Monday because of avalanche warnings.

In Tsunanmachi, around 160km north of Tokyo, 69 households or 199 people were cut off with 323cm of snow accumulated as of yesterday morning.

The Japan Meteorological Agency expects 40cm to 60cm more snowfall in the area facing the Sea of Japan during the 24 hours until 6am today.

All 10 public primary and middle schools in the town were closed, delaying the start of the new school term until tomorrow for now.

"Right now, snow has to be cleared off the roads and is piled up on the sidewalk," town government official Takuya Miyazawa said.

"We haven't been able to secure safety for children to walk the roads to go to school," he said, saying the town had no idea when the main road when be back open.

In Sakaemura, 301 people in 124 households are isolated.

"Since fuel reserves are reaching the bottom, we have to think about how to secure fuel for people," village spokesman Shinichi Kamikura said.

The massive snow has claimed the lives of at least 71 people since the season began early last month, according to a tally by Kyodo News.

Fifteen locations across Japan have been hit by record snowfall since last month, according to the meteorological agency.

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