At least 8 high school students have died, more than 30 were injured and several are missing after a massive snow avalanche hit a ski slope in a popular Nasu Onsen ski resort in Tochigi Prefecture early Monday morning, March 27, 2017. A fire department official explained avalanches occur once or twice per year at this spot, but never at this scale.
The incident occurred around 09:20 JST (00:20 UTC) near Nasu Hot Spring Family Ski Resort, some 120 km (75 miles) north of Tokyo. According to media reports, 65 people including students and teachers from 7 schools were at the area at the time, participating in a climbing workshop.
Rescue efforts are underway but bad weather and heavy snowfall are hampering the operation.
According to the NHK, snow began accumulating during the early hours of March 27 and by 09:00 JST was as high as 33 cm (1 feet). The Japan Meteorological Agency warned of heavy snow and avalanche warnings were in place.
"Despite it being late March, Tochigi has seen a spike in unusual snow during the last few days as well as rising temperatures," NHK meteorologist Robert Speta said.
"Based on the data at the JMA observation points about 5 km (3.1 miles) away from the ski resort, after the snow fell around the 21st of this month, the temperature during the day rose and the surface of the snow melted. The new snow was also accumulating many times since yesterday, so with all the old and new snow, there was a possibility that a "surface avalanche" would occur due to a slippery and weak surface," Hiroyuki Hirajima, a senior researcher at the Snow and Ice Disaster Prevention Research Center, told NHK.
Over the next 24 hours, more snow can be expected in the northern areas of Tochigi prefecture.
Featured image: Snow avalanche hits Nasu Onsen ski resort on March 27, 2017. Credit: Reuters