Reports of traffic jams on the Kanetsu Expressway, which connects Tokyo and Niigata prefectures, began to appear on Wednesday. By the early hours of Thursday morning, authorities had closed the highway entrance to ease the blockage.
Jam It started after a car got stuck in deep snow in the middle of the highway, bringing traffic to a standstill, according to Nippon Highway Corporation (NEXCO), the nation’s highway operator.
The central and northern regions of the country were hit by heavy snowfall that morning, disrupting traffic and losing energy for some communities.
Traffic accumulation on the stopped highway; At its peak Thursday night, the jam extended to 15 kilometers (about 9.3 miles), Nexco told CNN. Some sections of the long line of traffic were able to move slowly with start and stop operations, but some motorists had been stuck in place for more than 40 hours.
The crowding lasted until Friday. Lanes from Tokyo were eventually cleared, but lanes to the capital are still parked. As of Friday noon, there are still 1,000 cars stuck.
Images of the highway show long lines of immobile cars, many of them with piles of snow above and around their cars, stranded among the snow-covered fields.
Some limited relief came Thursday when emergency responders distributed rice balls, bread, crackers, sweet snacks and 600 bottles of water, in addition to thousands of liters of gasoline and diesel oil.
But this was not enough, as the drivers hung for many hours in the cold.
A woman in her 30s and a man in her 60s were taken from a jam to the hospital with breathing problems and nausea on Thursday, according to Niigata’s crisis management official, Tsuyoshi Watanabe. No fatal or serious accidents have been reported so far.
Watanabe added that the prefecture requested the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to be dispatched to provide water, food, gasoline and portable toilets for people who were still stranded on Friday, and to help clear the ice.
NEXCO also warns drivers, via social media and radio, to be careful of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning while waiting in their cars for hours at a time.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with ministers to discuss the heavy snowfall, and called on local officials to work together to restore services and help those affected, NHK reported.
This story has been updated to reflect that the traffic congestion began on Wednesday.