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Death toll, traffic chaos worsen with more snow, sleet
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An unprecedented cold spell hitting half of China has caused at least another dozen deaths, injured thousands and stranded multitudes of travelers in the freezing weather by Sunday.

A bus carrying 41 people overturned on a slippery freeway in east China's Jiangxi Province early Sunday, leaving five dead at the scene and injuring 10 others. The victims included three children, two of whom were dead and one seriously injured.

The provincial meteorological bureau has warned drivers to take caution as continuous sleet has covered highways and all urban and rural roads with ice. The temperature will linger below zero Celsius across most part of the province in the following three days, the local meteorological bureau said.

In the mountainous Guizhou Province in the southwest, a hospital in the capital city of Guiyang has received at least 1,500 patients in the last five days, most suffering fractures after falling on slippery roads.

Guizhou has suffered five deaths, 1,631 collapsed homes and widespread blackouts.

At a hospital in the Buyi and Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Qiannan in the remote south of Guizhou, snow and sleet have cut electricity and tap water since Jan. 15. A hospital had to save power by canceling surgery to light up the emergency ward.

"If the power supply doesn't resume any time soon, heating will be a real problem," said Luo Laiquan, 63, of Qiannan.

The price of charcoal had climbed from eight yuan to 14 yuan a kilo, he said.

The local government said bad weather had also stranded more than 40,000 passengers in at least 5,000 broken-down vehicles on expressways between Guizhou and neighboring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

"We're trying to provide them with food and water, but several have passed out in the cold, including a new mother and her one-month-old baby," said Huang Zhengfu, secretary-general with the prefectural government.

He said the elderly and children were taken to a nearby hotel on Saturday.

In the central Hunan Province, one of the worst hit areas, seven people have died and snow is affecting the lives of 25.22 million people in 14 cities and 112 counties across the province.

Among the dead were three power company workers who died when their equipment collapsed as they were removing ice from a 50-meter tall tower on Saturday afternoon.

Heavy snow has also blanketed Diqing, a Tibetan autonomous prefecture in the southwestern Yunnan Province, starting from Jan. 19. As of Sunday morning, Shangri-La had reported 35 centimeters of snow.

Though no deaths or injuries have been reported, the local government estimated at least 100,000 people were affected as snow has cut roads, power and drinking water, damaged at least 500 homes and destroyed at least 10,000 hectares of cropland.

The northwestern Gansu Province is battling the heaviest snow in 60 years. Since Jan. 10, the continuous snow and low temperature which plunged to minus 30 Celsius had affected more than 800,000 residents, killed 32,000 livestock, and damaged around 20,000 greenhouses for planting vegetables, according to the latest statistics from the provincial bureau of civil affairs.

In the eastern Jiangsu Province, the heaviest snow since 1984 virtually closed the airport in the provincial capital of Nanjing on Sunday. In several cities, the average precipitation was around 20 millimeters.

In the aftermath of the massive train delays on the trunk rail link between Beijing and Guangzhou on Saturday, the number of passengers stranded in Hangzhou, capital of the eastern Zhejiang Province, soared to 30,000 on Sunday compared with 5,000 reported on Saturday.

The delay also forced around 15,000 train passengers in Wuhan, one of the largest cities in central China, to change or cancel their travel plans as 17 rail lines were closed in the weekend, according to the local railway station.

The heavy snow closed Wuhan Tianhe International Airport for four hours on Sunday, delaying more than 40 flights, stranding over 2000 passengers, according to the airport.

The delays of at least 136 trains, a result of power failure, stranded almost 150,000 passengers at Guangzhou Railway Station on Saturday night.

Officials in Guangzhou have predicted as many as 600,000 people will be stranded at the Guangzhou railway station if the problems are not solved by Monday.

Local authorities said they were trying to provide shelter to passengers at schools and other public facilities close to the railway station, including the subway tunnels after the subway stops operation at midnight.

"I nearly burst into tears when I saw them waiting here, hopelessly and hopefully," said Fu Yufen, leader of the Hangzhou Railway Station in eastern Zhejiang Province where almost 30,000 passengers were stranded this weekend.

As the temperature drops to minus one Celsius in Hangzhou, passengers, many of whom were rural migrant workers heading home for the traditional Lunar New Year, crowded in the waiting room or stood in the square, holding umbrellas against sleet or cuddling each other to keep warm.

Local authorities opened nearby theaters to passengers and the tea bar in the station has also been accessible to passengers for free.

"This is a hard journey home, and we would not let passengers suffer hunger and coldness any more," said local authorities.

(Xinhua News Agency January 28, 2008)


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