Cold wave freezes most of China, shutting highways, roads

By Liz Lee and Ethan Wang

BEIJING (Reuters) -President Xi Jinping called for “all-out” emergency response efforts as a cold wave extended its grip over China on Friday, with temperatures falling below freezing across most of the country and snowfall affecting transport in many places.

Temperatures were expected to drop to below minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and in the region of Xinjiang in the northwest, along with Inner Mongolia and the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai, according to forecasts from China’s National Meteorological Centre.

Xi, who went to the southern Guangxi region on Thursday and Friday, said heavy rain and snow in many parts of the country had affected power supplies, transport and people’s lives, the official Xinhua news agency reported. It added he told local governments to refine their precautionary measures and improve contingency plans.

The cold wave that began the start of this week was moving through the country from north to south and was expected to take temperatures lower into the weekend, although rain and snow will decrease, the Meteorological Centre said.

The city of Yichun in Heilongjiang could see a record low of minus 47.9 C (minus 54.2 F), recorded in January 1980, broken early next week.

In Henan province, snowfall and icy roads along with heavy fog caused multiple accidents on several expressways leading to traffic controls.

Traffic authorities in Ningxia region said some of its highways have become unsafe and implemented temporary traffic measures as snow fell. Neighbouring Gansu also saw some highways closed and trains suspended, according to state media.

On Beijing’s outskirts, authorities looking into an accident on a commuter rail line said a train carriage failed to brake while moving downhill, colliding with another car that had stopped because track conditions had deteriorated in the snow.

The authorities said 515 people were sent to hospitals for medical checks after the accident, many with bone fractures.

In the southern coastal province of Guangdong, maritime authorities had suspended 29 passenger ferry routes as of Friday afternoon, state television said.

Ferries and some buses were temporarily suspended early on Friday in Shanghai as the financial hub issued its first cold wave warning of the year, with temperatures as low as minus 6 C (21.2 F) expected at the weekend.

In the southwest, sections of many national and provincial highways in Tibetan cities such as Shigatse and Nyingchi were blocked due to snow, ice and low visibility.

Beijing and the provinces of Jiangxi and Shanxi have also taken measures to secure vegetable and fruit harvests from freeze damage and diseases, state media said.

China lifted its warning for blizzards before dawn on Friday but said heavy snowfall was forecast in parts of Liaoning and Jilin provinces in the northeast as well as in Shandong.

In the city of Shenyang in Liaoning, authorities deployed 22,000 workers and over 3,400 machines for snow removal operations. Its observatory has forecast snowfall and strong winds until Saturday.

Next week, cold air will continue to flow across the country from north to south, keeping temperatures low in central and eastern regions.

(Reporting by Liz Lee, Ethan Wang and Bejing newsroom; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Tom Hogue and Frances Kerry)