THOUSANDS FLEE CHINA BLIZZARDS
Violent blizzards have forced the evacuation of 97,000 people in a largely Muslim region of western China, as the nation braced for its worst winter in 20 years. Sixty centimetres of snow covered large parts of Xinjiang, a vast desert territory near China's border with Central Asia, said Wang Zhenyao, a disaster relief official with the civil affairs ministry.
"The most urgent issue right now is to ensure traffic and transportation," Wang told a briefing in Beijing. "
Two other difficulties include ensuring that the evacuees are warm and have enough to eat."
An official with the Xinjiang civil affairs bureau said nearly 100,000 evacuees had been moved - mostly because their homes had collapsed under the heavy blanket of snow. He warned that the crisis was far from over, saying: "It's still snowing."
Winds blowing in from Siberia had caused the temperature to drop precipitously to minus 36 degrees Celsius in some spots, the state-run Xinjiang News website said. The blizzards had affected mainly the Altay area in the north of Xinjiang, home to 25,000 of the evacuees, according to reports in the state media. While no people were reported dead or injured in Xinjiang by, livestock had started dying amid fears of much worse to come.
"Nine thousand head of livestock have died so far," said a civil affairs ministry official in Beijing surnamed Fang. That number could soon multiply, as the Xinjiang News website said altogether 300,000 head of cattle and sheep were unable to graze because of the thick snow cover.
Winter is usually a harsh season for Xinjiang's 19.6 million people. Last year in March floods caused by melting snow destroyed 10,000 houses in the region. In early 2001, devastating blizzards killed 130,000 livestock, and hundreds of people suffered from frostbite with some having to have limbs amputated. To prevent new tragedies, the ministry of civil affairs was struggling today to send enough tents and blankets to the affected area, Fang said.
The snowstorms in Xinjiang were just the most dramatic result of a cold front descending over China this week.
More winter freezes
Most provinces in the north of the country were impacted, and heavy fog caused a series of cancellations and delays at major airports, including in Beijing. Three more "winter freezes" were expected to affect China during January, usually the coldest month of the year, state meteorologists warned this week.
The Central Meteorological Office has predicted that China will experience its coldest winter since 1986. This was based partly on the fact that temperatures in December were 1.5 degrees celsius below the historical average. "China is experiencing the coldest winter in 20 years," Wang Bangzhong, a deputy director with the China Meteorological Administration, said in comments carried by the state press this week.
The cold snap over north China happened as the government said 2,475 people were killed in blizzards and other natural disasters around the nation last year, the highest casualty figure since 2001.
The death toll, representing an increase of 10 per cent over 2004, was made public by Deputy Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo at a briefing in Beijing. "China saw relatively severe natural disasters in 2005," Li said. "We had floods, typhoons, droughts, hail storms, earthquakes, blizzards and mudslides."
SOURCE: World News
January 06, 2006
THOUSANDS FLEE CHINA BLIZZARDS