China Snow Strands Thousands as Premier Oversees Relief Efforts (Updated)

Heavy snowfall in China has been wreaking havoc, already causing at least eight deaths and disrupting travel. From Bloomberg:

Beijing’s heaviest snowfall in at least 54 years grounded hundreds of flights and trapped thousands of motorists on frozen roads as Premier Wen Jiabao oversaw relief efforts.

Wen traveled yesterday afternoon to Hebei province, adjacent to the Chinese capital, to visit stranded travelers. Tens of thousands were trapped on highways linking Beijing with the surrounding provinces of Shanxi, Hebei, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

“The most important thing now is safety,” Wen was shown telling stranded drivers and government officials in a China Central Television broadcast. “We need to provide good services and make sure drivers have food to eat and water to drink.”

More on the extent of damage, plus questions on the possible consequences of artificially induced snowfall, from AFP:

The collapse of the cafeteria at an elementary school in Hebei province on Wednesday killed three students and left 28 others injured, the Yanzhao Metropolitan News said.

Hebei authorities have issued orders to ensure school safety throughout the province, while schools in the provincial capital Shijiazhuang have been closed for three days due to the heaviest snows there in 54 years, reports said.

[…] Officials have said the two storms that hit Beijing were artificially induced, sparking anger among capital-area residents, but the extent of the weather manipulation efforts remained unclear.

Further details on the scope of relief efforts, via China Daily:

Tanks remained on standby yesterday to help de-ice highways in the city.

The last time tanks were mobilized to fight a snowstorm was last January, when the worst blizzard in 50 years in China left 129 people dead and caused economic losses of $21 billion.

In response to the weather, Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, has stocked enough vegetables for all its residents for a full week, mayor Ai Wenli said yesterday.

Across the country, vegetable and pork prices experienced a slight increase on Wednesday, according to the national agricultural produce price monitoring system.

Update: The death toll is currently at 38. From Bloomberg:

The mayor of China’s Shijiazhuang apologized for the response to the region’s heaviest snows in six decades as Beijing pledged funds to help people caught in the storms that have left 38 dead and thousands stranded.

Ai Wenli, mayor of the capital of Hebei province battered by 55 centimeters (22 inches) of snow this week, said at a briefing broadcast on China Central Television yesterday that he and other city officials would strive to provide better relief to the city of about 10 million.

[…] Hebei, Shanxi and Henan provinces received the most snow in 60 years from Nov. 9 to Nov. 12, with the heaviest downfalls in a century in some areas, the meteorological administration said. Storms on Nov. 12 covered Beijing with 16 centimeters of snow, the city’s heaviest snowfall since weather data began in 1955, according to the meteorological administration.

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