Early winter snowfall in Beijing breaks records

Despite city's preparations, drivers are trapped in cars while houses lose power and heating

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 4:05am

Snow and rain battered parts of Beijing over the weekend, causing transport chaos in the capital and surrounding regions that authorities were still trying to clean up yesterday afternoon.

Meteorologists said 59mm of rain and snow fell in central Beijing between Saturday and yesterday morning - setting a record high for rainfall over a 24-hour period between November and March. An orange alert, the second-highest for snowstorms, was issued on Saturday night.

The Ministry of Public Security implemented emergency road-management measures yesterday, ordering local police bureaus to ensure that enough relief materials were on hand, and to intensify the monitoring on and around bridges, crossroads and inclined roads.

The measures came after the local government was heavily criticised for its poor response to the severe rainstorm in July, the heaviest in more than 60 years, that killed dozens.

But despite the stepped-up emergency measures, hundreds of vehicles were stranded between Saturday night and yesterday afternoon on the Beijing-Tibet Highway inside the capital as snow drifts reached 80cm.

"I have been trapped for 16 hours. The wind and snow are getting worse. I still have no idea when I can get moving," a stranded Hebei Television reporter wrote on a Sina microblog around noon yesterday.

More than 70 bus lines, most of them serving mountainous suburbs, cancelled operations at the weekend. Traffic authorities also reported an increase in rear-end collisions on slippery roads in the city's central areas.

The storm also damaged trees along Beijing's metro Line 13 on Saturday night, causing branches to fall on the tracks. It took about four hours before normal operations resumed, the subway operator said on its official microblog.

An estimated 15,000 trees were damaged in Yanqing and Haidian districts.

In the worst-hit part of Yanqing, where snow drifts reached 47cm, more than 7,000 homes lost power and 1,800 lost heating. This was despite authorities turning on Beijing's public heating yesterday, 11 days ahead of schedule.

Elsewhere, blizzards closed at least nine highways in Shanxi province yesterday.

Five tourists, including four foreigners, were trapped in a blizzard on a mountain in Zhangjiakou , Hebei province, on Saturday night while traversing the Great Wall, China National Radio reported. Four of the tourists were saved, but rescuers were still searching for the remaining hiker yesterday.

The storm front will move northeast to Liaoning and Jilin provinces today, the National Meteorological Centre said. Icy winds are expected to continue blowing through Beijing today and tomorrow.