January 12, 2006

Japan fears avalanches after record snowfall

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan issued avalanche warnings on Friday
as temperatures were forecast to rise in areas buried under a
record snowfall that has been blamed for killing more than 80
people and injuring nearly 2,000, many of them elderly.

Eighty-two people have already been killed in snow-related
incidents over the past few weeks, Kyodo news agency reported.
Public broadcaster NHK put the injury toll at about 1,900.

About 80 percent of those who have died were over the age
of 60, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said, many of
them after falling from their roofs while clearing snow.

But residents of two remote communities in Niigata and
Nagano prefectures, about 180 km (110 miles) northwest of
Tokyo, were due a brief reprieve after five days of isolation.

Concerns had been growing about dwindling fuel supplies in
the village of Sakae and parts of Tsunan that were cut off when
a road was closed because of the danger of avalanches.

The road will be opened for three hours on Friday after
troops have cleared a track with shovels and heavy machinery
before being closed again, a local government official said.

Troops were being called in to clear snow in the Shakotan
region of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, Kyodo said,
following similar relief work by the military in Akita, Nagano
and Niigata prefectures on the mountainous main island of

Tokyo, however, has had virtually no snow this winter.