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107 Dead, US$15.4 Bln Lost Due to Snow

The back-to-back blizzards and icy rains that struck southern China in the past month have killed at least 107 people and left eight missing, as of Tuesday, a senior official said Wednesday.

The disaster has also caused direct economic losses of about 111 billion yuan (US$15.4 billion), Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju said.

He said 21 provincial-level areas had been affected, with Hunan, Guizhou, Jiangxi, Anhui, Hubei, Zhejiang and Sichuan provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region the worst hit.

About 1.5 million people have been evacuated and more than 1.9 million travelers were stranded at some point.

The extreme weather affected close to 24.4 million hectares of farmland, with crop failure in 168 hectares of farmland, and led to the destruction of more than 350,000 homes.

Also, 18.6 million hectares of forest have been damaged in 19 snow-afflicted regions including Hunan and Hubei provinces.

The snowstorms, the worst in five decades and up to a century in some areas, caused deaths, building collapses, blackouts, accidents, transport problems and livestock and crop loss in the country's eastern, central and southern regions for about a month.

Premier Wen Jiabao Wednesday chaired an executive meeting of the State Council and warned of "arduous tasks" for the hardest-hit areas to recover.

"Some major power grids have yet to be repaired. The straining of coal supplies for electricity plants has not been fundamentally resolved," Wen said at the meeting.

The premier urged local governments to put restoring power supply as the top priority. Local electricity networks should be repaired and work normally by the end of next month, Wen said.

He said efforts should be made to mobilize and organize farmers to prepare for the spring farming season, as crops in most disaster-stricken areas will bear no harvest.

Meanwhile, production and transportation of coal for power generation should continue to be guaranteed, and efforts must be made to help victims, he said.

President Hu Jintao has ordered all of the country's military forces to continue supporting reconstruction work in snow-hit areas.

The disaster is also testing insurance firms, which have paid out more than one billion yuan on claims stemming from the severe weather in south and central China, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) said Wednesday.

More than 855 million yuan were on property claims and more than 56 million yuan on health and life policies.

The power sector received about 254 million yuan and the farming sector 40 million yuan, the CIRC said in a bulletin.

Meteorologists forecast a warm-up for most areas south of the Yangtze River in the coming days, which could help the thawing of piled snow and ice.

(China Daily/Xinhua News Agency February 14, 2008)

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