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306,000 troops mobilized to combat snow disasters
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As of midnight Friday, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China had deployed 306,000 soldiers to combat the effects of the snow in the southern parts of the country, a military source said.

About 1.07 million militia and army reservists were participating in the weather relief effort, the PLA's emergency response group told Xinhua.

The PLA currently has 2.3 million troops.

Irregular tactics, including shooting power lines with submachine guns to shatter the ice, and resorting to tanks to crush ice on the road, were used frequently by soldiers.

Military vehicles such as field kitchen trucks and armored cars played an important role in de-icing and rescue missions. More than 100 aircraft and helicopters remained on standby, air force sources said.

Two AN-26 transport planes flew to the southwestern province of Guizhou in the early hours of Saturday, carrying 5.5 tons of relief material and equipment including food, medicine and quilts.

By 1:33 p.m. on Saturday, the first of six helicopters loaded with relief goods, deployed by the Chengdu Military Area in southwest China, flew to Yibin, Sichuan Province. The copters were to airdrop 5,500 quilts over snow-hit areas in Dazhou and Yibin's Changning County, which on top of the snow was hit by a medium-intensity earthquake early on Friday.

The PLA handed out 419,000 quilts and 219,000 cotton-padded coats in response to a request from the State Disaster Relief Committee.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, about 1,500 soldiers helped maintain order at the train station.

Soldiers of the Hubei Provincial Military Area in central China helped local police to restore a 28-km section of the Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway, the country's key north-south trunk road, which had been closed by dangerous icing. Those efforts helped more than 6,000 vehicles and 12,000 stranded riders continue their journeys.

The snow, the heaviest in decades in many places, has been falling in China's eastern, central and southern regions for more than a fortnight. It has caused deaths, structural collapses, blackouts, accidents, transport problems and livestock and crop destruction.

The snow havoc has hit 19 provincial regions and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp, toppled 223,000 houses and damaged another 862,000, said the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

The ministry said that nearly 7.8 million people had been affected and 60 people had been killed in the snow-triggered disaster.

Experts said that the cold, snowy spell had displaced the 1998 Yangtze River flood as the largest natural disaster in decades. The 1998 flood affected 2.3 million people.

"Our troops with skills and modern equipments are playing an important part in fighting the snow disasters," said Senior Colonel Tian Yixiang of the emergency response group, adding that the troops have strengthened their training at dealing with natural disasters in recent years.

Also joining the effort were more than 100 PLA generals. Air force General Xu Qiliang and Commissar Deng Changyou called on all soldiers to carry on the "1998 flood-fighting spirit".

The army mobilized more than 300,000 soldiers to combat heavy floods that ravaged the Yangtze River area in 1998, which caused great losses. And in 2003, the PLA mobilized 37,000 members to help the public cope with the epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

On Wednesday, President Hu Jintao, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission and general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, ordered troops to go all out to combat the snow crisis and give whatever assistance the public needed.

"PLA headquarters and relevant military districts have had tanks and armored cars on standby and they can be put to use to break ice on the roads at the request of local governments," said Tian.

"Whenever there is a disaster, the military is obliged to take part in the relief work," Tian said. "This is an obligation required by the Constitution and the laws. When manpower is needed, we send our men. When goods are needed, we offer our goods," he added.

(Xinhua News Agency February 3, 2008)

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