TOKYO -- An avalanche has killed three bathers at a hot spring in northern Japan, where heavy snow also paralyzed traffic and forced schools to close.
The deadly avalanche hit Wednesday in Akita.
Officials said Thursday that snowstorms have battered coastal cities along the Sea of Japan and large parts of northern Japan since late last year. Some areas have received more than twice as much snow as normal.
The snow has played a role in 56 deaths and more than 750 injuries since November. Most of those killed fell from rooftops while shoveling snow. Hundreds of trains were suspended in northern Japan. In Yamaguchi in western Japan, a truck tipped over and blocked highway traffic in the area for nearly eight hours, although the accident caused no injuries.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called a ministerial meeting Thursday to discuss relief measures. Defense troops have been dispatched to worst-hit areas including Aomori, where hundreds of people were evacuated.
(This version CORRECTS day of avalanche in paragraph 2 to Wednesday, not Thursday)