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November 14, 2009

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Death toll from snow in N. China rises to 40

UNUSUALLY early snowstorms in north China have claimed at least 40 lives in weather-related accidents and caused billions of yuan in damage, the Civil Affairs Ministry said yesterday.

Nineteen of the deaths resulted from traffic accidents related to the storms that began on Monday, the ministry said in a news release posted on its Website.

The snowfall is the heaviest in the area since record-keeping began following the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, the ministry said. It estimated economic losses from the storm at 4.5 billion yuan (US$659 million).

The storms have caused the collapse of more than 9,000 buildings, damaged 190,000 hectares of crops and forced the evacuation of 158,000 people, the ministry said.

Beijing, which lies at the heart of the affected area, has been hit by three successive waves of snow, causing havoc on roadways and forcing the cancellation or delay of scores of flights.

Children killed

The impact has been far greater in the surrounding provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Shandong and Henan, where highways have been closed, schools shuttered and crews sent to rescue people in their snowbound homes.

Among the fatalities, four children were killed when two school canteens collapsed after heavy snow in Hebei and Henan provinces.

Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju has ordered local authorities to provide food, water and clothing to those still stranded and to make proper arrangements for people who lost their homes in the snow.

The Civil Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of Finance have allocated 20 million yuan from the central budget to Shanxi and Hebei provinces to help reallocate those affected by the snow and help them build new homes.

Critical state

In a notice issued on Thursday, the State Council said the country was in a critical situation as it dealt with the global financial crisis and the swine flu and called for stepped-up efforts to mitigate damages brought by the snow.

Local authorities should take measures to ensure the supply of food, water, power, heating and gas to the public and should check schools, health centers, homes for the elderly and tourist sites for hidden dangers, the Cabinet notice said.

Public security and traffic departments should increase patrols on accident-prone roads and should make all-out efforts to ensure expressways and highways are safe, the notice said.

Authorities must also conduct safety checks on power, telecommunications and heating, water and gas supply facilities, and forecasters must give alerts for blizzards and temperature drops in a timely fashion, it said.


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