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May 27, 2017

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Taiwanese return after Hokkaido ordeal

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Twenty-two Taiwanese tourists stranded by blizzards for 14 hours in Hokkaido, Japan, last Saturday returned home safely yesterday.

They were greeted at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport by employees of the Richmond Tours travel agency, who handed them gifts and red envelopes.

According to the travel agency, the tourists arrived at Hokkaido for a five-day trip on March 1. They were on their way to Lake Saroma Tsuruga Resort in Kitami, northeastern Hokkaido, Saturday afternoon when their tour bus was stopped by a heavy snowstorm.

The group leader informed the travel agency immediately and asked for police support. The leader also contacted Taiwan's Tourism Bureau to solicit assistance.

The tourists had little to eat on the bus other than some cookies and snacks they had brought with them.

The bus driver kept the agency up to date on the passengers' conditions, informing them every hour and reporting that they were calm, but also noting that "one tourist felt ill," according to a Japanese media report.

The Asahi Shimbun reported that Japanese self-defense forces arrived in the area of the trapped bus Sunday morning and settled the 22 tourists at a makeshift shelter, along with 644 people who were also trapped in the storm.

By the time the forces arrived, the bus, which had accumulated snow on top of its cabin, had been trapped for 14 hours.

Japanese authorities said on Monday that at least nine were killed in the blizzard, including a family of four who were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after the gas vent of their vehicle was blocked by snow.

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