The worst winter weather to hit central, eastern and southern China in decades could persist into the Year of the Rat, weather officials said.
The severe weather, which has killed at least 60 people and left many millions facing a cold, dark Lunar New Year holiday, could last until Feb. 8 or 9, according to the latest forecasts from the Central Meteorological Station on Saturday morning.
It said that heavy snow would continue on Saturday in the central province of Hunan and in Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Shanghai and Zhejiang to the east. A new round of snow was likely to fall on Monday and Tuesday.
Much-needed warmer temperatures were unlikely even after the snow began to end around Feb. 8, chief weatherman Yang Guiming warned.
"In many provinces, roads will remain icy, and it takes time to return to warm temperatures," he said. "When it gets warm and the ice and snow melt, we have to watch out for road mishaps, floods and other problems."
The winter weather has hit 19 provincial regions and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp, toppled 223,000 houses and damaged another 862,000, said the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
The ministry said that nearly 78 million people had been affected as of Jan. 28.
Experts said that the cold, snowy spell had displaced the 1998 Yangtze River flood as the largest natural disaster in decades. The 1998 flood affected 2.3 million people.
The snow storm had caused 60 deaths as of Jan. 31, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Friday.
On Friday, two road patrolmen, Wang Guojie and Lin Shengqiao, died after their vehicle slid off an icy 30-meter cliff in Yongjia county, eastern Zhejiang Province.
The province had received at least 10 centimeters of snowfall by Friday night. In the worst-hit city, Huzhou, there was 36 cm of snow, and some counties had record low temperatures of minus five degrees Celsius.
Xiaoshan International Airport in the provincial capital, Hangzhou, has been closed since 5:00 p.m. on Friday and 5,000 passengers were delayed. Snow on the runway measured an average of 20 cm on Saturday morning, and airport authorities said reopening was unlikely before 6:00 p.m.
For the first time in 135 years, Shanghai posted a yellow snowstorm alert on Friday. By Saturday morning, it had received 15 cm of snow.
Affected by the weather, the Shanghai port at the mouth of the Yangtze River was closed as of 1:00 a.m. on Saturday. The move stranded more than 1,000 ships and cancelled the departures of 200.
Ice on runways and aircraft almost closed Shanghai's two international airports on Saturday morning. By noon, only 15 of 127 scheduled departing flights had left Pudong Airport. Hongqiao Airport reported 16 landings and 41 take-offs, out of 525 scheduled departures and arrivals.
Airport authorities said that 13 domestic flights were canceled.
A week after a snow cut off power in central Hunan Province, traffic on the key Beijing-Guangzhou rail line had yet to return to normal. At least 240,000 passengers were still stranded at the Guangzhou Railway Station on Friday and 5,300 police -- one sixth of the city's total force -- had been sent to maintain order.
A new snowstorm that gained strength on Friday threatened to paralyze traffic again on the expressway linking Beijing and Zhuhai in Guangdong Province, the provincial public security bureau warned on Saturday.
In many sections of the expressway, traffic recovered only on Friday, thanks to road staff who worked around the clock to clear ice from the surface.
Traffic was at a standstill on an expressway in southwest Sichuan Province following an early Saturday pile-up that involved 14 vehicles. Ten people were injured in the accident, which was blamed on icy road surfaces and fog.
(Xinhua News Agency February 2, 2008)