Wen visits Hebei after disastrous snowfall
Will Clem in Shanghai
Premier Wen Jiabao travelled to snowbound Hebei province yesterday to oversee relief efforts as the snowstorm that engulfed northern China turned into a disaster.
One question on people's minds is how much of this is caused by aggressive weather manipulation. It emerged that snowfall - at least in Beijing, where it fell for the third time in 11 days - had been artificially induced by cloud seeding on November 1 and on Tuesday.
The unusually early and heavy snowfall has brought mayhem to the north, leaving tens of thousands of cars trapped on blocked highways and causing two school canteens to collapse, killing four students.
The snow, which was the worst in half a century in some areas, such as Shijiazhuang , Hebei's capital, prompted the Public Security Bureau to establish an emergency command centre late on Wednesday night to deal with the widespread transport problems across the north.
The snowstorms have raised questions over the use of weather manipulation. The Beijing Municipal Weather Modification Office earlier said that the first snowfall was brought on by cloud seeding, and the China Daily on Wednesday quoted an unidentified official as saying the second had also been brought on by man-made means.
The website China.org.cn quoted a chief forecaster at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau yesterday as saying the two heavy snowstorms were 'rather heavy for early November'.
Hundreds of flights have been cancelled, train passengers have been stranded at railway stations and an estimated 30,000 vehicles have been caught on impassable roads.
Adverse weather stretched across six provinces: southeastern Shaanxi, central and southern Shanxi, central and southern Hebei, most of Henan , northwestern Hubei, and western and northern Shandong .
Wen arrived yesterday afternoon in Shijiazhuang to oversee relief efforts. He visited passengers waiting at the city's main railway station, then inspected the situation facing stranded travellers on an expressway near the border with neighbouring Shanxi province, Xinhua reported.
Shijiazhuang has been brought to a standstill by the worst snowfalls in 54 years, with snow on roofs more than a metre deep in some areas.
One person had died and 25 had been injured in the city, and 68 vegetable greenhouses had collapsed, local officials said. The school canteen collapse happened on Wednesday evening at a private boarding school in Yongnian county, northern Hebei.
Three primary schoolchildren died in the accident and 28 others were injured. Local officials announced a two-day school closure in response to the incident.
The canteen of a second school in Kaifeng county, Henan, collapsed yesterday morning, killing one student and injuring seven others.
Five people had died and 36 had been injured in Shaanxi since the snowstorm hit the province on Monday, Xinhua reported.
Three were killed when a house at a chicken farm collapsed; two others died in the collapse of a market shelter.
Provincial officials reported that more than 1,200 houses had collapsed and 1,900 had been damaged. Damage was estimated at 437 million yuan (HK$497 million).
Shandong officials said 17 homes and 40,000 greenhouses had collapsed, and one person had died.
Shijiazhuang has been brought to a standstill by the worst snowfalls in this number of years: 54