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Snow Havoc Forces Cancellation of Flights over 6 Days

Civil aviation authorities said on Thursday that more than 3,250 flights had been cancelled during the six days through noon on Wednesday as the worst snowstorms in decades wreaked havoc in southern, central and eastern regions.

Bad weather also forced 380 planes to be diverted and delayed 5,550 flights, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) said. However, airlines still carried 3.17 million passengers from the nation's 52 major airports between January 23 and 29, up 11.8 percent from a year earlier, by flying larger planes.

Snow and freezing rain have also caused deaths, housing collapses, crop and livestock destruction, power blackouts, and road and rail problems.

Severe weather had killed 38 people and resulted in the direct economic loss of 32.67 billion yuan (US$4.5 billion) in 17 provinces, regions, and municipalities by Wednesday afternoon, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Also affected were 105 million mu (7 million hectares) of crops, with the harvest on 11.31 million mu completely wiped out, the Ministry of Agriculture said Thursday.

Traffic on the trunk rail line linking Beijing and Guangzhou began to return to normal, but Guangzhou railway authorities still cancelled 54 trains on Thursday.

The traffic paralysis stranded hundreds of thousands of passengers in Guangzhou, mostly people who were trying to go home for Lunar New Year, which falls on February 7.

The Ministry of Finance on Thursday earmarked another 138 million yuan for disaster relief, lifting the total relief fund to 431 million yuan.

Premier Wen Jiabao has urged greater efforts to guarantee coal, fuel and power production and supplies as well as grain and fresh farm produce.

The power coal reserve stood at 21.19 million tons, less than half of the normal level, and the shortfall had closed 42.12 million kilowatts in generating capacity, the State Electricity Regulatory Commission said on Wednesday.

The premier also urged officials to give priority to power supplies for homes, hospitals, schools, rail hubs, financial and public institutions, and agricultural production. He ordered local governments to limit or cut electricity to energy-intensive, polluting industries in regions with power shortfalls.

Coal and electricity consumption was increasing rapidly in the freezing winter, but coal supply was tight as many mid- and small-sized mines have shut down for Lunar New Year, Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan said.

Coal mines of all sizes should raise output, with safety in mind, to be sure there were adequate supplies during Lunar New Year in early February and the annual parliament meeting in March, Zeng said during an inspection tour of the northern province of Hebei and coal giant China Shenhua on Wednesday and Thursday.

(Xinhua News Agency February 1, 2008)

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