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Snow, rain coming in new cold wave

Temperatures will plummet by up to 12 degrees in the north and rain will fall in the south as a strong cold wave sweeps across the country, the national forecaster said.

Heavy snow and gale force winds have already caused the temperature to drop by 18 degrees in Altay in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Freezing conditions since last week have left one person dead and at least 276 injured or sick, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

The China Meteorological Administration (CMA) said temperatures in most parts of the north would drop by 12 degrees early this week, and that the cold wave would bring rain in southern parts of China.

Temperatures in the south will likely drop by up to 8 degrees, and rain and snow will hit the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, possibly freezing the middle and lower areas, Sun Jun, CMA chief forecaster told China Daily.

Sun said the impact of the snow would not be as disastrous as in early 2008 when transportation was paralyzed because of heavy snowfall.

China has been repeatedly struck by cold waves this winter. Liaoning and Jilin provinces and the eastern part of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region have suffered the coldest weather in 30 years, while Beijing and Tianjin have been hit by the largest amount of snow in 59 years.

In the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, more than 5,400 people were forced to evacuate because of heavy snowstorms since New Year. The heavy snow flattened 799 houses and caused damage to 4,897 others.

A total of 261,800 people in 12 counties or cities were impacted by the blizzard. Losses have been estimated at 10 million yuan ($1.5 million).

Meanwhile, snow up to three-meters deep has formed a "snow wall" on most parts of provincial road 318, which connects Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, and Tacheng. The wall was up to eight meters high in some places, forcing the road's closure.

Farmers and herdsmen have been hit hard. The snow and temperature drop has killed nearly 11,600 livestock, which is the major source of income for local residents and more than 15,000 livestock are starving because of the hay shortage.

Some roads leading to isolated villages in Tacheng were cleared yesterday after days of plowing but it is still impossible for vehicles to get through, so people have to use sleighs to carry supplies into the villages.

Guland, a remote village in the Tacheng area with about 300 people, received its first batch of essential supplies such as flour, coal and hay yesterday, after more than nine days of isolation.

"I am so glad the aid is here today, I had to share our food with my neighbors because they ran out of food days before," said Yerjonbek, a village herdsmen in his 40s.

Authorities have left villagers with enough supplies for 15 days in case of further snowstorms.

The regional government has appropriated 15 million yuan for disaster relief in the affected areas, according to the ministry.

As the cold wave sweeps across the country, several provinces have also been struggling with coal and gas shortages since late last year.

Power shortage

In South China's Hubei, Hunan, Zhejiang and Jiangxi provinces, power consumption has hit record levels as residents rely on household electric heaters to keep warm. Provincial governments have to ration electricity for industrial use and buy electricity from other regions to ensure supply for residents.

China's coal-abundant Shanxi province has ordered rotating shutdowns of more than 40 power-guzzling factories to ensure sufficient supply for residents. Outdoor landscape lighting has to be turned off during peak power use times.

Li Jianwei, deputy director-general of the provincial electricity association, said Shanxi has one-third of the nation's coal reserves, but faced a shortage because of insufficient production and a hefty amount of outflow to other parts of the nation.

The National Development and Reform Commission is urging local authorities to guarantee power supplies for residential consumers and to keep prices stable.