By 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, disasters caused by prolonged low temperatures, icy rain and heavy snow had killed 38 people since Jan. 10, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Wednesday.
The deaths were mainly caused by house collapses, falls on slippery streets and drowning, the ministry said. The toll, however, did not appear to include those killed in traffic accidents on icy roads.
Altogether, 17 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities have been affected, and 1.6 million people have been evacuated to safer places.
The snow had affected nearly 6.7 million hectares of farmland, led to the collapse of about 149,000 houses and damaged 602,000 others. Direct economic losses were estimated at 32.67 billion yuan (about 4.5 billion U.S. dollars).
Five provinces -- Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou, Jiangxi and Anhui -- and the Guangxi Autonomous Region were the worst hit by the unprecedented severe weather.
The prolonged snow, rain and cold in east, central and south China over the past half month have caused deaths, structural collapses, blackouts, highway closures and crop destruction, causing unprecedented damage, the ministry said.
Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju announced during a video conference on disaster relief on Wednesday that the ministry had put people stranded on highways and in railway stations into the temporary social assistance system.
We "must keep disaster-stricken people and those stranded on highways and railway stations safe from starvation and cold," Li said. "We should pay special attention to ensure no one died from hunger or cold."
Li asked local civil affairs agencies to pool disaster-relief resources from all sources "at all costs" to provide needy people with necessities including water, food, clothes and bedding to ensure social stability.
(Xinhua News Agency January 31, 2008)