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Heavy snow wreaks havoc, killing 15
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Heavy snow over large parts of China on Monday caused widespread traffic disruptions and left at least 15 people dead in weather-related accidents.

Five people died in the collapse of buildings under the weight of the snow in Central China's Hubei Province, which had its heaviest snow in 16 years, and another died in a building collapse in the eastern province of Anhui, where it has been snowing since January 11.

The snow affected 7.8 million people in Hubei and caused losses of 1.43 billion yuan (US$198 million), said Liu Hui, an official with the provincial department of civil affairs on Monday.

Nine people were killed in snow-related traffic accidents in the province. Hubei also saw the collapse of 11,305 houses and 481,300 hectares of crops damaged.

Half of the province's roads, totaling more than 1,000 kilometers, have been closed since Saturday. More than 8,800 of the scheduled 9,500 long-distance coaches from Wuhan city have been cancelled, affecting about 300,000 passengers, according to local sources.

In the eastern Anhui Province, 2.84 million people were affected and the direct economic loss stood at 400 million yuan.

Snow has forced all freeways in areas of Anhui north of the Yangtze River to remain closed since 3:00 pm on Saturday, said sources from the Anhui Provincial General Detachment of Traffic Police.

Luogang Airport in Hefei, capital of Anhui, was forced to close for 11 hours from late Saturday until early Sunday due to icy runways, which caused 11 flights to be delayed.

The transmission line that carries electricity from the Three Gorges Project to Shanghai was broken in the heavy snow, and more than 450 repair staff have been working around the clock to repair it.

In Shanghai, snow affected about 100 long-distance bus service routes on Sunday and delayed more than 30 flights.

In western Tibet, emergency workers have rescued 131 people from snowbound highways in the Ngari Prefecture since last Thursday, but local officials fear others may be still trapped.

The southwestern Sichuan Province also saw its biggest snowfall in a decade. The temperature was two to three degrees Celsius below average for the time of year, which was very rare, said senior Sichuan meteorologist Fan Xiaohong. The snow started on January 11 and would last another five days.

An airport in Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was shut down on Sunday afternoon and Monday.

Disaster alleviation work is underway around China. Hubei has allocated 17.2 million yuan in subsidies for people affected. The department of civil affairs has sent 68,000 items of cotton-padded clothes and quilts to affected areas, and ordered local authorities to evacuate all those in at-risk buildings.

The Anhui government is also distributing money, clothes and quilts to people affected. It has evacuated 4,087 people from their residences.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs said earlier on Monday that 5,750 people had been relocated due to the snow.

(Xinhua News Agency January 22, 2008)

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