" --IANS/EFE"
Tokyo, Dec 18 (IANS/EFE) A violent snowstorm in northern Japan has killed five people and seriously disrupted transport on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japanese media reported Thursday.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said two powerful low-pressure fronts have been present near Hokkaido and to the north of Honshu island since Wednesday, resulting in heavy snowfall and strong winds.

It could be one of the worst storms to hit the northern Japanese archipelago in recent years with up to 120 cm of snow in some areas and winds that could reach 160 kmph, the agency warned.

At least three people have died in traffic accidents involving ice, snow and avalanches; two in Hokkaido prefecture and another in Hiroshima to the west, the NHK broadcasting station reported.

Two other people, aged 68 and 66, also died after falling from their rooftops while trying to clear away snow in northwestern Nigata province and the northern Akita province.

Two crew members of a Chinese ship have been missing since their vessel struck a rock while seeking shelter from the storm in the Oki Islands in Shimane prefecture.

Authorities have evacuated some 150 people stranded by the snow, while close to 20,000 homes remained without electricity Tuesday and Wednesday, the Hokkaido Electric Power utility said.

More than 1,200 schools in the prefecture were forced to remain closed, along with a number of highways and roads.

Train services between the island's capital, Sapporo, and other parts of the country remained suspended, as were the trains in northwestern Honshu.

More than a 100 domestic flights, mostly originating in Hokkaido, were cancelled Thursday, said NHK.

On Wednesday, over 420 domestic and international flights were grounded due to the storm and an American Airlines plane flying from Seoul to Dallas was forced to make an emergency landing in Tokyo after experiencing severe turbulence.

The JMA issued an alert for northern, central and western Japan on account of strong winds and intense snowfall and warned of the risk of avalanches, landslides and floods.

--IANS/EFE

ab/dg


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