Four killed in Japan as train derails in blizzard

Rescuers on Monday pulled the body of a fourth passenger from the twisted and snow-blown wreckage of a train that crashed in northern Japan after derailing during a blizzard.

Five carriages of the six-carriage train left the tracks in strong winds late on Sunday north of Tokyo. Three carriages toppled over and the front car slammed into a rail-side shack, local police said.

Rescuers crawling through wrecked carriages during a severe snowstorm had found the bodies of three passengers by early Monday. A total of 33 other passengers were injured in the accident.

As the ongoing snowstorm blanketed the wrecked train, rescuers pulled out the final body of a trapped passenger shortly after 9am local time, about 14 hours after the accident.

“We presume he was already dead when he was rescued ...
as he was not breathing and no heartbeat was felt,” said an official at a local fire department, which is responsible for ambulance services.

Rescue efforts were hampered by the bad weather as well as difficulty accessing the damaged carriages.

“Inside, the train was a mess while snow and winds were blowing into shattered windows,” the fire-department official said.

“Besides, the accident site was in the middle of snow-covered rice fields. It was difficult for large vehicles to go through narrow farm roads,” he said.

The train derailed in strong winds soon after it crossed a bridge over a river, police said.

It was travelling between Amarume and Sakata stations on the Uetsu line, 350km north of Tokyo, carrying 44 passengers and two crew members when it derailed.

Television footage showed the carriages lying on their sides and partially torn open.

Train operator JR East reported that the train driver, who survived the crash, had applied the brakes manually after hearing an unusual sound.

“Strong winds hit the train after it passed the bridge, lifting it off,” Jiji Press news agency quoted the driver, Takashi Suzuki (29), as telling police.

Due to heavy snow, the train is believed to have been running more than one hour behind schedule, JR East said.

Many parts of Japan have been hit by record snowfall and storms this month. At least nine people have died due to unusually heavy snow in Fukui, in central Japan, since December 14, a municipal official said.

A total of 107 people were killed and about 550 injured when a commuter train jumped the tracks and smashed into an apartment tower in the western city of Amagasaki in April, in Japan’s worst rail accident since 1963.—AFP

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