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Insurers pay US$128 mln to snow-hit regions
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Insurance companies in China have paid a total 917 million yuan (128 million U.S. dollars) to meet claims from snow-stricken victims by Wednesday, the disaster relief and emergency command center under the State Council said late Thursday.

The insurers had paid 49.92 million yuan for agriculture-related claims and another 2.35 million yuan for damaged rural homes, it said in a statement.

The snow havoc had resulted in direct economic losses of about 80 billion yuan (11 billion U.S. dollars), toppled 300,000 homes, damaged 90 million hectares of crops in 19 provinces and regions, the Red Cross Society of China said earlier the week.

It has also killed scores of people and disrupted transport and power services across a large swathe of the country's southern, central and eastern regions.

Liping airport in southwestern mountainous province of Guizhou was still closed on Thursday. All the other airports have been reopened as the weather cleared over the past few days.

About 150,000 workers were working to bring back power services in regions blacked out by the worst winter storm in more than five decades during the Lunar New Year, which fell on Feb. 7 this year, the center added.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, the State Grid Corp. of China had restored power supply to 20.38 million households. By Thursday noon, the smaller China Southern Power Grid had successfully repaired 4,276 power transmission lines and was working on the remaining 2,498 lines, according to the center.

The center said late Wednesday that electricity was partly or fully restored to 164 snow-stricken counties in China, including Chenzhou city, central province of Hunan and the hardest hit.

The remaining five counties blacked out by the severe weather were using portable generators as the power came back just in time for the Lunar New Year holiday.

In a bid to ease power coal shortage, the center has said 2,282 coal mines, or 63.8 percent of the nation's coal production capacity, would operate normally during the Spring Festival. The percentage was 23.2 points higher than originally planned.

The China Meteorological Administration took weather officials off severe alert status on Wednesday, as forecasts for rain and snow were downgraded for central, eastern and southern provinces.

As most of China was predicted to have clear weather for the Lunar New Year holiday, the country could get a breathing space to recover from the disaster.

(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2008)

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