A massive winter storm has dumped more than 2 meters (7 feet) of snow on parts of central Japan, stranding motorists in their cars. Some people have been stuck for 40 hours, and more heavy snowfall is expected.

At least 1,000 vehicles on a stretch of the Kan-Etsu highway running through Niigata prefecture northwest of Tokyo were trapped by heavy snowfall on Thursday night into Friday, as a winter storm buried much of central Japan under meters of snow.

Vehicles stuck on Friday in Japan's Niigata prefecture

Dozens of emergency service personnel cleared snow from vehicles and provided food, fuel, blankets and portable toilets to people were stuck overnight Thursday into Friday morning.

East Nippon Expressway President Obata Toru told a press conference on Friday that 670 vehicles were still stuck as of 3 p.m. (0600 UTC), public broadcaster NHK reported.

A man hands food to a truck driver

Disaster management officials said they were working to evacuate stranded motorists to nearby hotels by the end of Friday, NHK reported.

The traffic jam began to form early Thursday morning when snow plows could no longer keep up with the accumulation, meaning some of the motorists have been stuck for more than 40 hours.

East Nippon Expressway said they hoped the section of highway, which connects Tokyo to the port city of Niigata, would be reopened by Saturday morning.

Cars stuck in Niigata Prefecture

Over the past three days, a record 2.17 meters (7.1 feet) of snow was measured in the town of Minakami in Gunma prefecture. The ski town of Yuzawa in Niigata prefecture measured 1.8 meters of snow on Thursday morning.  

Japan’s meteorological agency warned of more heavy snowfall over the weekend along the coast of the Sea of Japan.

A Japanese woman shovels snow