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Natural Disasters Claim 21 Lives over Weekend

The People's Daily reported yesterday that Fridays hailstorm in Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality has left 18 dead, one missing and 125 injured. Shaanxi provincial government also said that three people had been killed in a landslide on Saturday.

The biggest of the storms, which fell in Chongqing, produced hail up to 13 centimeters in diameter, according to local reports. Eight districts also experienced gales and 140 millimeters of rainfall.

According to the municipal Office of Disaster and Social Relief, about 1.5 million residents in 80 counties and towns were hit, leaving five dead and 125 injured and causing 200 million yuan (US$17 million) of damage.

Qianjiang District was the worst affected, with hailstones destroying more than 27,800 houses and local crops. In this district alone, there was damage worth 35 million yuan (US$4.2 million).

Many cities in Sichuan were also affected by strong winds and heavy rainfall. Some, such as Leshan, Dazhou and Yibin, were hit by hailstorms and a total of thirteen people died in the province.

Ye Sheng, deputy director of Gaoxian County's Party committee in Yibin, said he witnessed a hailstorm that lasted for about one-and-a-half hours on Friday.

He said some hailstones were as big as eggs, and even small ones were the size of peas. "Many houses were pierced by the hail. It is the most serious hailstorm for 20 years in the county," he was quoted by People's Daily as saying.

A large band of rising warm air resulted in the wind, rain and hail, the Provincial Office of Disaster and Social Relief said.

Measures have been taken to counter the storm, including cloud seeding. In Chongqing alone, some 2,100 rounds have been launched to transform the hail into rain.

Sichuan has set up a special disaster and social relief group to guide the work, comfort affected residents, help them reconstruct their homes and get their lives back to normal.

Areas in Hubei Province adjoining Sichuan also experienced similar weather, injuring 15 people.

Last week, many regions in China were hit by sudden changes of weather, with areas in the north and northwest experiencing sudden drops in temperature.

In Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the temperature fell to minus 1 degree Celsius on Thursday from 26 degrees Celsius the day before. And in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the temperature dropped 17 degrees in the same two days, followed by its most serious dust storm this spring on Friday.

Saturdays landslide in Shaanxi occurred at 11:19 AM in Jingouqu Village of Zichang County, damaging nine mountain caves – traditional dwellings for residents in the northern parts of the northwest province.
Three people living in the caves were buried while all others managed to escape.
Three hundred people joined the rescue work, but the victims were confirmed dead when they were found by rescuers about three hours later.
One survivor said he saw fissures appear in the walls at around 8:00 AM on Saturday. "At 11:00, I heard cracks. Within seconds, my family's cave collapsed," he said in an interview with Xinhua.
Nine of the 16 caves in the neighborhood were buried in the landslide, said Jia Yuguo, an official from the county government.
The government is working on schemes to compensate the families of the dead and to relocate all the other people living in the caves.

(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency April 11, 2005)

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