South Korea, Japan grapple with heavy snow chaos, delays

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A person shovels the snow in front of a shrine Wednesday Jan. 25, 2023 in Tottori, Tottori Prefecture, western Japan. Snow and cold weather were affecting much of Japan on Wednesday, disrupting highway, air and train travel, and more snow and cold temperatures were forecast. (Kyodo News via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Frigid winter weather gripped East Asia for the second straight day on Wednesday, causing several deaths and multiple injuries in Japan and a scramble for flights out of South Korea’s resort island of Jeju following delays by snowstorms.

Heavy snow and record cold temperatures brought widespread disruptions in Japan.

South Korea’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety didn’t immediately report any major damage or injuries from subzero temperatures and icy conditions that have affected most of the country since Tuesday.

But at least eight roads and 10 sea routes remained closed as of Wednesday afternoon. About 140 homes in capital Seoul and nearby regions reported busted water pressure pumps or pipes as temperatures dipped to around minus 15 to minus 20 degrees Celsius (5 degrees to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit) across the mainland.

A man died in Oita, southern Japan, after being hit by a fallen tree and two more deaths in the northern prefecture of Niigata were being investigated in connection with the cold weather, officials said.

Two other people were found without vital signs in Okayama, western Japan. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki told reporters that the deaths could be linked to accidents while removing snow and urged residents to refrain from such activities when nobody else is around to help in case of an emergency.

About 400 homes around the country were without electricity due to power line damage caused by fallen trees, the Economy and Industry Ministry said. It said traffic disruptions caused by the snow also caused delivery delays at convenience stores in western Japan.

Thousands of people using train services in Kyoto and Shiga prefectures in western Japan were forced to stay overnight in carriages or stations, and 13 were taken to hospitals, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. Vehicles on major roads across the country were left stranded and hundreds of flights canceled. Kyoto prefecture reported more than 30 injuries, mostly by falling.

Air traffic returned to normal after hundreds of flights in and out of Jeju were grounded Tuesday because of strong winds and snow, stranding an estimated 40,000 travelers who had visited the resort island for Lunar New Year holidays.

Around 540 flights, including nearly 70 that were temporarily added by transportation authorities in an emergency response, were scheduled in and out of Jeju on Wednesday alone, mostly to take passengers back to mainland cities.

The Korea Airports Corporation said the operating hours at Gimpo airport near Seoul was extended until 1 a.m. to accommodate the increased flights, which were expected to bring back 70% to 80% of the passengers who were stuck in Jeju.

The island saw more than 19 centimeters (7.5 inches) of snow since Tuesday morning, while southern mainland cities and towns such as Gwangju and Gangjin reported around 10 to 12 cm (3.9 to 4.7 inches) of snow. More than 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) of snow fell on the small eastern island of Ulleung.

The winter storms appeared to be moving toward the greater Seoul area and nearby regions, where heavy snow was expected from late Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, according to the Safety Ministry, which warned about dangerous road conditions.

Officials in Gyeonggi province, which surrounds Seoul, said nearly 7,000 cold-weather shelters will be open across the region and that several thousand tons of snow-clearing chemicals would be used to improve the safety of roads that may turn icy.

Cold weather warnings were also issued in North Korea, where authorities reportedly called for “thorough measures” to prevent freezing temperatures from causing economic damage. Temperatures in capital Pyongyang was forecasted to dip to minus 19 C (minus 2.2 F) during Wednesday morning, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said, citing a North Korean state-run radio broadcast.

North Korean state media didn’t immediately report any major damage or injuries caused by the weather.

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Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

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