Photo/Illutration Workers clear snow from the Kan-etsu Expressway near the Muikamachi Interchange on Dec. 19 even as more fell in the area. (Natsuki Midorikawa)

Hundreds of motorists stranded by snow on the Kan-etsu Expressway connecting Tokyo with Niigata Prefecture eventually managed to reach their destinations, but expressway operators were still unable to open some sections even by the early afternoon of Dec. 19.

The drivers had been stuck since the evening of Dec. 16.

East Nippon Expressway Co. (NEXCO East) said the section of the Kan-etsu Expressway between the Koide Interchange in Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, and the Tsukiyono Interchange in Minakami, Gunma Prefecture, remained closed to traffic as of 1 p.m. on Dec. 19 to remove snow.

With the Japan Meteorological Agency forecasting more snow for the Sea of Japan coast of eastern Japan from Dec. 19 to 20, drivers in the area were urged to be extra cautious about venturing out.

In the 24 hours through 6 a.m. on Dec. 20, the agency forecast up to 100 centimeters of snow in the Hokuriku region and 80 cm in the Kanto-Koshin region. Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture recorded 167 cm of snowfall by noon Dec. 19.

The last stranded motorists on the inbound lane of the Kan-etsu Expressway between Koide and Shiozawa Ishiuchi interchanges were helped out by around 10:15 p.m. on Dec. 18, according to NEXCO East officials.

At the peak of the crisis, about 2,100 vehicles were stranded on both lanes of the Kan-etsu Expressway.

The situation on the outbound lane was cleared by the morning of Dec. 18, but at least 1,000 vehicles were still trapped on the inbound lane as of noon Dec. 18.

Niigata prefectural government officials sought the assistance of the Self-Defense Forces and 460 or so Ground SDF members from Niigata and Gunma prefectures arrived to help about 700 NEXCO East employees remove snow.

As a result, all stranded motorists were able to drive away by late Dec. 18. Lighter than forecast snowfall that night also made it easier to remove trapped vehicles.