TOKYO – Hundreds of cars and trucks were trapped on highways on Friday after heavy snowfall wreaked havoc in northwest Japan.
More than 2,000 vehicles were stranded in the depths of the snow Thursday, according to Nexco East, the company that manages the region’s highways. By 3 p.m. (1 a.m. ET) Friday, that number had dropped to at least 670.
Some 700 rescuers could take until Saturday morning to release them all, according to Nexco East, which is short for East Nippon Expressway Company.
“I want to apologize for the long period of closure along the Kanetsu Expressway caused by the snow, and in particular for having trapped our customers for a long time,” said Nexco East President Toru Obata, at a press conference.
Obata said heavy wet snow that could not be moved by plows trapped large trucks on Wednesday.
“The government will do everything possible to save anyone who is stuck in their vehicle,” the main government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, told a regular briefing.
Japanese Self-Defense Force troops delivered food, gasoline and blankets to stranded drivers and helped clear snow. Firefighters were rescuing some drivers, including at least three people who were taken to hospital, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
As road workers in hard-hit areas such as Niigata Prefecture cleared snow several meters deep in places, the Meteorological Agency warned of heavier snow over the weekend along from the coast of the Sea of Japan.
Some places are bracing for up to 80 cm (32 inches) of snow in the midst of a cold snap that has affected much of the country.
Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo; Patrick Smith reported from London.
Reuters contributed to this report.