10 dead as blizzards take heavy toll on central China
Snowfalls force closure of airports, roads and high-speed train services, and squeeze already short supplies of heating gas
Blizzards in central China have killed at least 10 people and affected more than 560,000 others this week, with eight people dead in Anhui province alone, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Friday.
Shanxi, Henan, Hubei, Anhui and Jiangsu are the worst-hit provinces, with the storms inflicting an estimated 510 million yuan (US$78.6 million) in economic losses since Tuesday, according to ministry figures.
Up to 410mm of snow blanketed parts of Henan, Hubei and Anhui provinces.
The blizzards forced closure of expressways, high-speed train services and airports in many affected areas, and destroyed about 200 homes.
They also interrupted deliveries of fuel, from thermal and coking coal to liquefied natural gas, traders and shipping sources said.
The sources said the transport disruptions had pushed up the price of coal, which could worsen heating fuel shortages for residents in the country’s frigid north.
The freezing temperatures prompted the industrial city of Wuhan, in Hubei province, to ease gas restrictions, offering respite to some residents.
Households will now be able to buy up to 220 cubic metres of natural gas a month, up from 150 cubic metres previously, according to local media reports.
The deep freeze has stoked fears that gas shortages could worsen as the government continues to push millions of households and industrial plants to switch from coal to the cleaner fuel in a bid to reduce air pollution.
Chen Zhu, managing director of Beijing-based consultancy SIA Energy, said Wuhan’s decision to lift caps on gas use reflected more supplies from state energy firms in recent weeks, although China’s overall shortage persisted.
“The heavy snow boosted the demand for heating ... but improving supplies give the state firms more space to coordinate supplies between consumers,” Chen said.
“This still comes at the expense of curbs to industrial firms and gas-fired power plants.”
Conditions are expected to ease, with China’s weather bureau lifting its “orange alert” on Friday.
But heavy rainstorms were still expected in some parts of the country.
The National Meteorological Centre said late on Thursday that moderate to heavy snow was set to hit Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, while the southwestern Guangxi region was facing heavy freezing rain and sleet.
Record levels of snowfall since late Wednesday have paralysed parts of China, with Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu, issuing a blizzard “red alert” on Thursday afternoon after forecasting snow depths of up to 250mm.
The weather bureau issued an “orange alert” on Wednesday, with snow disrupting public transport and energy supplies, damaging power lines and forcing authorities to shut down roads, airports and schools in parts of central China.
At least three airports were closed and nine others experienced extensive delays on Thursday because of heavy snowfall.