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February 11, 2010

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Blizzard pounds holiday travelers

A BLIZZARD hitting at least six provinces and regions in northern China has disrupted tens of thousands of homecoming trips ahead of the most important Chinese holiday on Sunday.

The Ministry of Transport said at least 24 expressways had been closed nationwide amid heavy snow by yesterday morning.

Heavy snow starting on Tuesday night has closed six expressways in the northern Shanxi Province, putting a brake on bus services and stranding thousands of passengers at a coach terminal in the provincial capital Taiyuan as of midday yesterday.

"The terminal was closed at 5:40am Wednesday and all the stranded passengers had their fares refunded," said Li Zhigang, manager of the terminal station.

He did not know when the coach service would resume.

Snow began in the northern province on Tuesday and intensified during the night. Taiyuan Airport was closed at 2:30am yesterday, forcing at least two incoming flights to stop over in Beijing, said airport official Fan Zhifeng.

Snow forecast

He said the airport reopened at 7am, allowing the first direct flight from Taiyuan to Taipei to take off on time.

But the weathermen forecast heavy snow to continue in most parts of the province today, accompanied by a temperature drop from 7 to 10 degrees Celsius.

Besides Shanxi, the central meteorological station in Beijing has forecast blizzards in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and the provinces of Shaanxi, Hebei, Shandong and Henan.

Though no official data is available as to how many road accidents have been caused by the snow, Xinhua reporters witnessed more than 40 accidents, mostly pile-ups caused by brake failures, on a 50-kilometer section of the Beijing-Lhasa expressway in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on Tuesday night.

Blizzards also hit parts of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. As of Tuesday night, the Ngari Prefecture had reported 21.7 millimeters of precipitation and fresh snow on the ground measured 23 centimeters.

The Chinese pre-holiday rush for home reached a climax yesterday, with an estimated 5.2 million passenger trips by railway alone.


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