China has beefed up disaster alleviation work as an unusually heavy snowfall claimed at least 17 lives and caused widespread traffic and power disruption.
The death toll increased by two after a car collided with a truck on an ice-covered road on Monday night in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, leaving two dead and five others injured.
Before that, six people were confirmed dead in buildings collapsed by bad weather in Hubei and Anhui provinces and nine others died in weather-related traffic accidents in Hubei.
In southwestern Guizhou, power has been cut off in nine counties because of grid damage caused by the freezing rainy weather.
By midday Tuesday, three 500-kv transmission trunks and 25 other smaller lines had halted service because of serious damage, according to the Guizhou Power Grid Company.
The company had stopped supplying electricity to seven highly energy-consuming industries and had imposed limits on other industries to ensure electricity for households, government buildings and hospitals, said Chao Jian, deputy general manager of the company.
Chao said the company was organizing repair teams and seeking help from neighboring Yunnan Provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to help with repair work.
In eastern Anhui, more than 3 million people have been affected by a heavy snow from Friday through Sunday, which caused snow drifts of up to 50 centimeters in certain areas.
A total of 3,635 houses collapsed under the weight of snow, according to the provincial disaster relief office.
Traffic, power and telecommunications were cut off in more than 50 towns of the province.
In northwest China's Shaanxi province, the seriate heavy snow since Jan. 11 has affected most parts of the province. Only in Weinan and Yan'an, two cities near the provincial capital Xi'an, about 423,500 people were affected. More than 182,300 people were turned off water supply temporarily and 147 houses collapsed under the weight of snow.
The snow also damaged 1,110 hectare of crops and killed more than 5,100 poultries and livestock. The total direct economic loss was reported to be 68 million yuan (about 9.4 million USD).
The snowfall topped the records since 1957, said Du Jiwen on Tuesday, deputy director of Shaanxi Provincial Meteorology Bureau. He said the snow would continue to 30th of this month.
The Emergency Management Office of the State Council, the Cabinet, issued a notice on Monday, asking all localities to pay high attention to the effects of the snow and rain.
Premier Wen Jiabao has ordered the governments to help the people in a practical and effective way, said the notice.
Local government were also ordered to strengthen meteorological monitoring and to release details to the public in time.
The snowy and freezing weather has affected most of southern China for more than a week, making their temperatures in the same period down by two to three degrees Celsius than normal years, according to meteorologists.
"There had been no such bad weather ever since central Hunan had expressways," said Gong Xiao, an expressway administration official who was spreading salt to avoid icing on a bridge.
Eight expressways in Hunan were closed on Tuesday, stranding nearly 1,000 vehicles and more than 2,200 passengers in different sections, according to the provincial expressway administration bureau.
The bureau said it had dispatched thousands of workers to spread salt on expressways, provide food and medicine for stranded passengers.
In Sichuan, continuous snowfall led to a 3-centimeter ice coverage on the runway of an airport in the Jiuzhaigou scenic spot. The airport was shut down on Saturday.
Ma Zhenfeng, the Sichuan Climate Center director, said the continuous precipitation had resulted in the current temperatures two to three degrees lower than normal years. The snowy and icy weather was forecast to continue in the next few days. Local governments are still on high alert against more casualties from the snow-resulting accidents.
"All the homeless people and those in at-risk buildings have been evacuated and appropriately accommodated -- either living at their relatives or staying at government-provided shelters," a Hubei provincial civil affairs official told Xinhua.
Cotton-padded clothes, quilts and other relief materials were being arranged for affected areas.
In Wuhan, capital of Hubei, more than 1,000 street beggars were sent to special assistance stations for accommodation in case of deaths from coldness.
According to the China Meteorological Administration, the snowy weather would continue for the next 10 days in most parts of southern China, warning of further traffic disruption.
(Xinhua News Agency January 23, 2008)