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Heavy Snow Sparks Alert

The National Meteorological Center Sunday issued an orange alert -- the second-highest on a scale of five -- for heavy snow on Monday in central and eastern parts of the country.

It forecast snowstorms to hit parts of the central provinces of Henan and Hubei, and the eastern provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu and Anhui.

Henan, Hubei and Anhui have seen snowfall for a few days, forcing expressways to close and grounding flights.

In Hubei, one of the hardest hit, at least 1.1 million people in 27 cities were affected by Sunday afternoon, with 10 killed, including one crushed under the collapsed roof of a gas station in Wuhan, the capital, on Saturday morning.

The snow was the heaviest in the past 17 years, local meteorologists said.

Freezing temperatures caused water pipes to burst in Wuhan, causing drinking water shortages for more than 100,000 people since Thursday.

To restore supply, the city's water bureau deployed nearly 4,000 water tankers and 15,200 workers to repair broken pipes.

In Anhui, more than 1.21 million people were affected, with direct losses amounting to 210 million yuan (US$29 million), the provincial department of civil affairs said Sunday.

Snow started to fall in Anqing, Lu'an, Hefei and other cities on January 12, damaging 87,000 hectares of farmland. A total of 1,033 houses were toppled by the snow. A local meteorologist said the snow would continue till Thursday.

In Tibet, five people stranded in a snowstorm were rescued early Sunday morning, while 11 members of a rescue team remained trapped for a third day, a local police spokesman said.

The five were found in two vehicles on Saturday night in the Ngari Prefecture, suffering from altitude sickness after being trapped for more than seven hours, the spokesman said.

Snowfall began on Friday with the maximum exceeding 30 cm. Traffic on the Ngari section of the mountainous highway linking Xinjiang and Tibet has been blocked since that day.

By noon Sunday, local police and government staff had rescued 61 stranded persons.

However, an 11-member team, sent to save others stranded by the snow, ended up getting stuck on Friday.

(Xinhua News Agency January 21, 2008)

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