Extreme cold affects millions in northwest China

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BEIJING (AP) — Closed roads and delayed flights left thousands of travelers stranded Tuesday following blizzards and extreme cold that killed four people and affected 1.6 million others in northwestern China, a government spokesman said.

Snowstorms delayed 122 flights in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang region, on Monday, leaving more than 4,000 passengers stranded, and blocked roads from nine avalanches stranded more than 1,000 passengers in the region, according to a Urumqi government spokesman surnamed Wang. Like many Chinese officials he declined to give his full name.

Four people had died because of the bad weather, Wang said Tuesday. He did not give details.

Rescue workers were evacuating thousands of rural residents to safer ground at lower altitudes because of the latest storm front, expected to last through Wednesday and plunge temperatures to minus 45 degrees (minus 43 Celsius), Wang said.

In neighboring Mongolia, an official appealed for help from the international community as his country battles the most severe winter it has seen in three decades.

Storms in China’s far western Xinjiang flattened or damaged about 100,000 homes, and more than 15,000 head of livestock were killed by the cold front that began on Sunday night, according to Xinjiang Meteorological Station forecaster Wei Rongqing.

Snow was falling in the region’s Altay district, where accumulations had already risen to 3 feet (94 centimeters), Wei said. Altay lies in China’s extreme northwestern corner, 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers) northwest of Beijing, the capital.

“Livestock raising has been hit hard. Both wild animals and livestock haven’t been able to find food, but now forage has been allocated by the central government,” Wei said.

Some 1.6 million people in total were affected by the harsh weather, according to Wang.

The figure includes those who suffered property damage, power and supply shortages or were stranded by snow drifts and icy roads.

Parts of northern China are seeing their harshest winter in decades, with Beijing this month receiving its heaviest one-day snowfall in 59 years. Temperatures in the capital were due to rise above freezing this week.

On Monday, Mongolia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Zandanshatar Gombojav said most rural provinces in the poor, landlocked country sandwiched between China and Russia were covered by up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of snow. He said nearly 800,000 animals had been lost while many transport routes were blocked by heavy snow.

“Though the government and the population at large are doing their best, the severity and the duration of such extreme weather could overwhelm our capacity and resources,” Zandanshatar said at a press conference.

Mongolia needs emergency supplies including warm clothing, generators, heating devices and first-aid kits, Zandanshatar said.


Associated Press writer Ganbat Namjilsangarav contributed to this report from Ulan Bator.