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January 26, 2010

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13 dead as Xinjiang endures harshest snowstorm in 60 years

THE worst snow in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in six decades claimed at least 13 lives, the regional government said yesterday.

The regional bureau of civil affairs said the blizzard and freezing temperatures that swept the northern part of Xinjiang, particularly Altay and Tacheng, had left another 1,168 people ill and injured.

Nine people died in Altay, including one from cold and eight in avalanches, and four died in avalanches in Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture, as of 10am yesterday, said the civil affairs bureau.

Almost 1.42 million people were affected by the weather, and of them, 161,856 have been evacuated.

The severe cold helped topple 7,125 residential buildings and damage another 21,856 homes and 8,911 animal pens and vegetable sheds, leaving 101,000 head of livestock dead or injured. The grim weather also made it hard for 3.71 million head of livestock to find enough to eat, the bureau said.

There was a shortage of 5,800 tons of grain rations and 22,000 tons of fuel coal in Altay and short supplies of 3,100 tons of grain rations, more than 80,000 items of clothing and quilts and 8,570 tons of fuel coal in Tacheng. Ili Kazak was also suffering from shortage of 3,365 tons of grain and 19,914 tons of fuel coal.

According to the civil affairs bureau, the regional government has earmarked 65.4 million yuan (US$9.59 million) for disaster relief, provided 4,716 tons of grain, 38,649 tons of coal and 40,000 winter coats and quilts to the affected area.

Premier inspects

The severe weather has aroused concern in the central government. Premier Wen Jiabao, on an inspection tour of Altay and Tacheng over the weekend, promised to take effective measures to help people through the severe weather.

Wen said the central government would offer subsidies and provide discount loans for shepherds, and would continue assistance into the spring.

The Ministry of Finance yesterday announced the allocation of another 14 million yuan for Xinjiang's farmers and herdsmen to restore agricultural production, in addition to the 124 million yuan of relief fund channeled to Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region last week.

On Saturday afternoon, after five hours of flying, Wen arrived at Altay in northern Xinjiang and then visited a Kazak village in the suburbs of Altay.

The temperature fell to 26 degrees Celsius below zero and snow was piled up more than one meter high along the village path when the premier reached the house of Kazak shepherd Zhumashi.

Zhumashi told the premier that his fodder reserve would only last until March and the cattle would not move to the summer range until May.

Wen told local officials to speed up transport of fodder from farming regions that were less affected by the weather.

Wen's next stop was a shepherd settlement in Tacheng, another seriously affected region. The settlement is home to about 1,000 formerly nomadic shepherd families.


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