January 21, 2006

Harsh Japan winter finally catches up with Tokyo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's harshest winter in decades
finally caught up to Tokyo on Saturday to blanket the capital
in its heaviest snowfall for five years, forcing flight
cancellations and slowing trains.

Although snow can fall in Tokyo once or twice a year,
temperatures usually hover above freezing, making significant
accumulations rare.

As of 3 p.m. (0600 GMT), some 7 cm (2.8 inches) of snow had
fallen in the Otemachi area of central Tokyo.

At Haneda Airport, 82 domestic flights were canceled, NHK
national television said. One runway at Narita International
Airport east of Tokyo was closed for about an hour.

Roads remained clear in central Tokyo, but some train lines
reported delays, while others ran fewer trains. Shinkansen
bullet trains between Tokyo and the western city of Osaka were
also running behind schedule.

The snowfall was the heaviest since 8 cm (3.2 inches) fell
on January 27, 2001, the Meteorological Agency said, adding
that the snow was expected to continue until evening.

More than 100 people have died this winter due to heavy
snowfall in western, eastern and northeastern Japan, making it
the most deadly winter in over 20 years.

On Saturday, however, these areas were spared, with
accumulations of only 5 cm expected at the most, the
Meteorological Agency said.