Photo/Illutration Vehicles stuck on the Kan-etsu Expressway in Minami-Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, on Dec. 18 (Yosuke Fukudome)

Hundreds of motorists remain stranded on the Kan-etsu Expressway that connects Niigata Prefecture and Tokyo after heavy overnight snow from Dec. 16 paralyzed traffic.

As of noon on Dec. 18, about 1,000 cars were still stalled on the inbound lane of the expressway between the Koide Interchange in Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, and the Shiozawa Ishiuchi Interchange in Minami-Uonuma, also in the prefecture, according to East Nippon Expressway Co. (NEXCO East).

Heavy snowfall also snarled expressway traffic in Gunma Prefecture.

Cars stopped moving on the morning of Dec. 17 at many locations between the Koide and Minakami interchanges, NEXCO East said. The Minakami Interchange is in Minakami, a town in Gunma Prefecture.

NEXCO East closed off a stretch of the expressway from the evening of Dec. 17 to clear snow and steer stranded motorists to a nearby interchange.

The gridlock on the outbound lane of the area was solved by 5:40 a.m. on Dec. 18, the company said.


Some motorists endured a nightmarish two nights.

At a little past 9 a.m. on Dec. 18, a 25-year-old driver who had already spent two nights in her car, found herself stuck again on the expressway between the Muikamachi Interchange in Minami-Uonuma and the Shiozawa Ishiuchi Interchange.

“I am all by myself and I’m really worried,” she said in a phone interview. “I just want to get out of here as soon as possible.”

The woman was driving to work in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, from Niigata city when traffic slowed to a crawl because of snow. Around 8 p.m., it stopped moving altogether.

She did not have any food except chocolates. She got out of the car frequently to remove snow from the exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide fumes from entering the vehicle.

Her car was close to running out of fuel by midnight on Dec. 17, forcing the woman to switch off the engine and shiver in the cold.

She cried all night, she said.

Then, she received an unexpected gift. A truck driver who was also stuck on the expressway came over to her and said: “You haven’t eaten anything, have you? I will bring something to you later.”

It was after 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 when the driver returned with two bags of “senbei” snacks made from rice, a Niigata specialty.

He was hauling a shipment of products made by Iwatsuka Confectionery Co. based in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture.

The driver said the company willingly agreed to him sharing some of the cargo with other stranded motorists desperate for something to nibble on.

The grateful woman could not help but share the driver's generous gift with other motorists.

She tweeted from the icy road: “22 hours have passed since I got stranded. No support has arrived yet. But I’ve got “osenbei” (rice crackers) from a truck driver.”

The post immediately went viral, receiving more than 26,000 likes.

Finally, around 10 a.m. on Dec. 18, SDF members brought her cookies and fuel, she said.

A 59-year-old male truck driver, a resident of Shibata, Niigata Prefecture, had more luck than the woman and was finally able to leave the Muikamachi Interchange on the morning of Dec. 18.

“I am so relieved to have gotten out of that,” he said.

The man was heading to Tokyo on the evening of Dec. 16 when traffic came to a standstill after he passed the Muikamachi Interchange.

He had some beverages in his cab as well as an internet connection, but it was so sporadic the man said he did not know what was going on.

A snowplow arrived in the area on the morning of Dec. 18 to clear the stretch of expressway so stranded motorists could drive back to the interchange.

Vehicles started to get stranded on the evening of Dec. 16, according to the Niigata prefectural police’s expressway division.

Around 8:45 p.m., a large truck skidded and got stuck on the inbound lane near the Shiozawa Ishiuchi Interchange, blocking both the driving and passing lanes.

Traffic behind the truck started backing up, leaving many motorists with no choice but to remain where they were.

About the same time, multiple cars became stranded on the outbound lane at many locations between Shiozawa Ishiuchi and Koide interchanges, police said.