The freezing weather that hit Guangdong around the Lunar New Year caused serious damage to natural resources in the north of the province, authorities have said.
Figures from the provincial forestry department said more than 733,000 hectares of forest had been ruined, leading to estimated losses of more than 6.6 billion yuan (US$924 million).
At the Nanling National Nature Reserve, one of the most important conservation zones in South China, 90 percent of its 52,000 hectares of forest were destroyed, Gong Yuening, a director of the reserve, said.
Located in Shaoguan - the northernmost point of Guangdong - the reserve, due its usually temperate climate, was home to many varieties of yew, pine and cypress trees, as well as hemlock and other rare plant species.
But when the cold came, the plants froze to death and tress collapsed under the weight of the snow, Gong said.
"The terrible weather damaged almost the entire natural fortune of the conservation zone," he said.
"The disaster has cost us more than 300 million yuan."
Wu Zhizong, who works at the reserve, said: "Hundreds of thousands of trees have collapsed or had their branches broken since Jan 26.
"The sound of cracking and splintering wood went on for 10 days."
Countless animals and birds were also victims of the freezing weather, Gong said.
The ecological condition of the region has been terribly damaged, he said.
"It will take three or four decades for it to recover."
Meanwhile, after suffering the heaviest snows for 50 years, Singapore's watermelon growers have said the harvest will be delayed this year.
Zhu Longgen, vice-chairman of the Shanghai Watermelon and Melon Trade Association, said half the seedlings planted last month had been destroyed.
"As a result, locally produced watermelons will not reach the market until 15 to 20 days later than usual," he said.
But local people need not worry about shortages, he said.
"We will import melons from Hainan," he said.
Prices are unlikely to rise either, he said.
Watermelons from Hainan are currently being sold at 3.5 yuan per kilogram, down 20 percent from before the Spring Festival.
A farmer holds watermelons ruined by the freezing weather last Friday in Qionghai, Hainan Province. The bad weather there caused extensive damage to crop land.
(China Daily February 23, 2008)