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Heavy snow wreaks havoc
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Widespread snowstorms have wreaked havoc across the country, causing dozens of fatalities and severe traffic disruptions.


Heavy snow has blocked freeways and closed airports in the central parts of the country, forcing a large number of passengers to flock to the railways, which are less affected by bad weather.


Tourists take photos of trees covered with ice in the town of Caoyuan in Longli county, Guizhou province yesterday. A recent cold front from the north has sent temperatures plummeting across the country. Wu Dongjun


The Ministry of Railways said yesterday that the daily passenger volume on Saturday and Sunday grew at a scorching pace, an increase of more than 1 million people each day from the same period last year.


Official figures show that 4.49 million people traveled by rail on Saturday, up 44.5 percent, and 4.32 million on Sunday, up 35.3 percent.


"An increase of more than 1 million passengers per day is very rare," ministry spokesman Wang Yongping said.


Wang said the snow forced many people to make last-minute changes to their road or air travel plans, which led to a surge in the number of railway passengers.


To ensure a safe and smooth travel flow, the ministry has issued an emergency notice urging all railway bureaus to closely monitor the weather and be prepared for contingencies.


There are currently no serious delays in train departures across the country.


In Hubei, about 1,000 km of roads have been closed since Saturday. More than 8,800 of the scheduled 9,500 long-distance coaches from Wuhan were cancelled, affecting about 300,000 passengers, according to local sources.


In Anhui, all freeways in areas north of the Yangtze River have been closed since 3 pm on Saturday, said sources from the Anhui traffic police.


The unusually-long four-day snowstorm that hit the two provinces has affected more than 10 million people and caused a direct loss of 1.14 billion yuan ($157 million), the Ministry of Civil Affairs said yesterday.


By yesterday morning, nearly 9,200 houses had been toppled by the snow, 57,500 people evacuated to safer places, and 557,300 hectares of farming land damaged, the ministry said.


Eleven people were killed when an overloaded bus overturned on a snow-covered highway in Anhui, police said yesterday, raising the death toll from weather-related accidents over the weekend to at least 25 nationwide.


The accident happened on Sunday when the bus - with a licensed capacity of 51 passengers - was carrying 72 people in the city of Mingguang. Fifty-one people were injured.


Five people were killed in Hubei and Anhui, buried in houses that collapsed under the weight of snow, according to Xinhua.


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


Since Saturday, a number of flights in the central parts of the country were cancelled or delayed.


Zhengzhou airport in Henan province was closed, and nearly 6,000 passengers stranded.


Sichuan also saw its biggest snowfall in a decade. The temperature was 2-3 C below average for the time of year, which is very rare, said senior Sichuan meteorologist Fan Xiaohong. The snow started on January 11 and is forecast to fall for another five days.


In Guizhou, power to seven counties was cut, affecting more than 129,800 households.


The number of people rescued from snowbound highways in Tibet since last Thursday rose to 131 by yesterday afternoon.


However, the government of Ngari Prefecture fears others are still stranded in a snowstorm that began sweeping the area four days earlier.


Many sections of highways have been blocked in Ngari, a remote prefecture in the west of the Tibet autonomous region.


The National Meteorological Center has forecast that heavy snowfall will continue in central and eastern China till Thursday.


(Shanghai Daily January 22, 2008)

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