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China Beefs up Relief Efforts After Unusually Heavy Snow

The death toll from the unusually heavy snowfall in central and eastern China has risen to at least 17 as officials stepped up measures to end widespread disruption.

The death toll increased by two after a car collided with a truck on an ice-covered road on Monday night in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, leaving two dead and five injured.

Before that, six people were confirmed dead in buildings that collapsed under the weight of the snow in Hubei and Anhui provinces and nine others died in weather-related traffic accidents in Hubei.

In southwestern Guizhou, power has been cut off in nine counties because of grid damage caused by the freezing rain.

By midday Tuesday, three 500-kV transmission trunk cables and 25 smaller lines were out of operation with serious damage, according to the Guizhou Power Grid Company.

The company had stopped supplying electricity to seven high energy-consuming industries and had imposed limits on other industries to ensure power for homes, government buildings and hospitals, said Chao Jian, deputy general manager of the company.

Chao said the company was organizing repair teams and seeking help from neighboring Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to help with repair work.

In eastern Anhui, more than three million people had been affected by a heavy snow from Friday to Sunday, with snow drifts up to half a meter in places.

A total of 3,635 houses collapsed under the weight of snow, according to the provincial disaster relief office.

Traffic, power and telecommunications were cut in more than 50 towns of the province.

The Emergency Management Office of the State Council, the country's Cabinet, issued a notice on Monday, asking all localities to be on high alert to the effects of the snow and rain.

Premier Wen Jiabao has ordered local governments to help the people in practical and effective ways, said the notice.

Local governments were also ordered to strengthen meteorological monitoring and to release details to the public in a timely manner.

The snow and freezing weather has affected most of southern China for more than a week, with temperatures two to three degrees Celsius below average for the time of year, according to meteorologists.

"There had been no such bad weather ever since central Hunan had expressways," said Gong Xiao, an expressway administration official who was spreading salt to prevent ice on a bridge.

Eight expressways in Hunan were closed on Tuesday, stranding almost 1,000 vehicles and more than 2,200 passengers in different sections, according to the provincial expressway administration bureau.

The bureau said it had dispatched thousands of workers to spread salt on expressways, and to provide food and medicine for stranded passengers.

Flights were also delayed in cities such as Hunan, provincial capital Changsha, and Shanghai.

The Huanghua International Airport in Changsha had to rent an ice-clearing vehicle on Tuesday from Weihai, Shandong Province. Eleven flights were delayed here.

In Shanghai, almost 100 inbound and outbound flights were delayed on Tuesday due to the rain and snow.

In Sichuan, continuous snow led to three centimeters of ice covering the runway of an airport at Jiuzhaigou scenic spot. The airport was shut down on Saturday.

Ma Zhenfeng, the Sichuan Climate Center director, said the continuous precipitation had resulted in temperatures two to three degrees lower than normal years.

The snowy and icy weather was forecast to continue in the next few days. Local governments are still on high alert against more casualties from the snow-related accidents.

"All homeless people and those in at-risk buildings have been evacuated and appropriately accommodated -- either with their relatives or at government shelters," said a Hubei provincial civil affairs official.

Cotton-padded clothes, quilts and other relief materials were being arranged for affected areas.

In Wuhan, capital of Hubei, more than 1,000 homeless people were sent to special assistance stations for accommodation.

The China Meteorological Administration said the snowy weather would continue for the next 10 days in most parts of southern China, warning of further traffic disruption.

(Xinhua News Agency January 23, 2008)

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