Japan braces for heavy snow

Japan's Meteorological Agency is warning of heavy snowfall in many parts of the country from Thursday through Saturday. Officials are advising people to refrain from non-essential outings.

Yokote City in Akita Prefecture northern Japan has already been hit by a record whiteout. Members of the Self Defense Forces are responding to a disaster relief request from the prefecture.

Principal Takase Norhiho of Sakae elementary school said, "I was really concerned the snow might crush the building, so I'm truly grateful to the SDF for helping to clear the snow."

There have been many reports of people dying while shoveling the buildup.

In Ugo Town, Akita Prefecture, a 74-year-old man was found dead, buried in a drift. Police believe he either fell from the roof, or snow fell on him from the eaves.

NHK research shows at least 29 people died between December 15th and Wednesday.

More than 400 domestic flights have already been cancelled. Bullet train service in Yamagata prefecture will be suspended tomorrow and on Friday.

Weather officials forecast heavy snow across wide areas along the Sea of Japan. They expect up to 120 centimeters over a 24-hour period to late Thursday afternoon.

Officials say the cold air mass is stronger than the one that came during the year-end and New Year holidays.

They are urging caution due to the risk of avalanches and snow falling off roofs in Tohoku and Hokuriku.

The snow there is already three to four times deeper than usual.