Heavy snowfall has crippled much of Japan's western coast, killing more than 50 people and injuring nearly 600. The worst snowstorm in six years has dumped more than 10 feet of snow in the hardest-hit regions, causing at least one bridge to collapse and forcing school closures across the region.
An avalanche today buried three people for more than an hour near a hot springs in Akita Prefecture in northwest Japan. The women were later found unconscious but survived.
Western Japan has been battered by one snowstorm after another since the beginning of the year, overwhelming cash-strapped cities struggling to keep up with cleanup efforts. In the Niigata Prefecture, officials said nearly half of their 30 cities had run out of funds set aside snow removal. Further north in the Aomori Prefecture, the government had already applied for additional funds from Tokyo, after draining its budget.
Residents, frustrated by the slow response, have taken it upon themselves to clean up the winter mess, resulting in deadly consequences. Nearly all the storm-related deaths have been a direct result of snow removal.
Meanwhile, in Nagano, the weight of all the snow proved to be too much for a 310-foot steel bridge. It collapsed early this week, although no one was injured.
The Japan Meteorological Agency forecasts more snowfall in the next 24 hours.