Avalanche strikes central Japan

An avalanche struck a mountain in central Japan on Monday, apparently burying four people in snow.

The incident occurred shortly after noon on the slopes of Mount Harinoki in Nagano prefecture, about 180 kilometers (110 miles) northwest of Tokyo, prefectural police spokesman Eiji Tanaka said.

Four people were feared buried in the sliding snow, and their condition was not yet known, Tanaka said. Authorities were notified about the avalanche by acquaintances of the four missing people.

It was unclear what kind of help had been dispatched to the area, Tanaka said, adding "We still don't have detailed information."

Japan this year had one of its snowiest winters on record.

In February a string of avalanches hit northern Japan, including one that buried an outdoor hot spring at a popular traditional inn in the northern prefecture of Akita, killing one person and injuring 16.

The cold spell caused more than 100 snow-related deaths since early December, the highest since the winter of 1983-1984, when the weather claimed 131 lives in northern Japan, according to the Meteorological Agency.

The spring thaw has loosened lingering snow, making avalanches a risk in some areas, reports the AP.

I.L.