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4 die in snow removal accidents in northeastern Japan

AKITA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Four people have died in separate accidents during snow removal work in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Akita in a span of two days through Wednesday, police said.

    Hiroyuki Nakayama, 47, and his 74-year-old mother Hideko were buried while removing snow at a barn near their home in Yuzawa at around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Nakayama was pronounced dead the following day.

    According to the police, a man who reported the accident told them, "I heard the snow drop and went out to check on them, but the two were gone from view."

    The man said there appeared to be snow accumulation of 1 to 2 meters on the roof of the barn, the police said, adding they believe the Nakayamas were hit by dropping snow.

    Kenzo Takahashi, 86, was found in deep snow near his home in the city at around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and later confirmed dead. He was also working to remove snow at a barn near his home, the police said.

    Later in the day, Sachi Kato, 81, and Kazuko Sasaki, 72, were also found buried in heavy snow near their respective homes in the cities of Yuzawa and Daisen, the police said.

    In order to prevent houses from collapsing under the weight, many people including the elderly need to remove accumulated snow from their roofs, especially in heavy-snow Sea of Japan coastal areas such as Akita Prefecture.

    Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake on Tuesday asked the Ground Self-Defense Force to send a disaster relief mission to Yokote, adjacent to Yuzawa, to deal with record snowfall.

    The GSDF sent about 100 members to Yokote on Wednesday to help remove snow. It plans to dispatch some 140 members to Yuzawa and the neighboring town of Ugo on Thursday.

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