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Heavy snow kills 61 in Japan since December
Updated: 2005-02-28 21:33

TOKYO - Heavy snow since December has killed 61 people across Japan, making it the deadliest winter in nearly two decades, with most of the victims elderly people who slipped shoveling snow off their roofs.

The deaths, reported in nine of Japan's 47 prefectures, are the highest since 82 people were killed in the winter to early 1986, Fire and Disaster Management Agency data showed as of the weekend.

The first fatality of the season was an 82-year-old who fell nearly three meters (10 feet) off his snowplow in December, followed by 30 deaths each in January and February.

Fifty of the 61 people killed were aged over 60, with most of them slipping from their roofs. Another 550 people were injured in 13 prefectures.

The snow deaths follow a record year of disasters in Japan in 2004.

Of the snow deaths, 22 were in central Niigata prefecture, which battled its heaviest snowfall in 19 years in early February just months after being hit by Japan's deadliest earthquake in a decade.

The October 23 earthquake in Niigata registered 6.8 on the Richter scale and killed 40 people.

Japan was also lashed last year by a record 10 typhoons including Tokage in October which killed 80 people, the deadliest typhoon in 25 years.

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