Visitors watch with a stunned look of surprise and sadness as a large snow relief of a scene from the "Final Fantasy XIV" video game is demolished by two power shovels in Sapporo on Feb. 13. (Susumu Imaizumi)

SAPPORO--Snow sculptures started being smashed to smithereens here on Feb. 13, the day after the end of the 69th Sapporo Snow Festival, whose attendance also took a battering this year due to the influenza epidemic.

Despite the festival lasting one day longer than usual, eight days, the total number of visitors decreased by about 100,000 to 2,543,000 people, down from a record high in 2017.

The flu outbreak is blamed as the main reason for the drop in attendance, with the Pyeongchang Olympics airing live on television during the event also a factor, according to the festival's executive committee.

Nonetheless, the sculpture demolition “event” drew huge crowds, as has become the norm since it became a popular part of the festivities, with group tours organized especially to watch the beautiful creations get torn down.

Not everyone was happy to see the destruction, however. Takuma Hoshino, 4, visiting Sapporo with his father from Aomori, said, “It is a pity to destroy (the snow sculptures) as I want to carry on seeing them.”

In the event’s main Odori Park venue, numerous snow statues more than 10 meters high are being taken down one after another. One of the most spectacular sculptures, a large relief of a scene from the "Final Fantasy XIV" video game that was created with 700 large trucks of snow over 28 days, quickly disappeared as it was attacked by two power shovels.