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Winter blizzards leave more than 100 dead in Far East, India

In this story:

Worst storm in 50 years

Disaster strikes thousands

Shortage of food, supplies

India in deep freeze

Russians shivering


BEIJING, China -- From China, to Russia, to India and to Japan -- unusually bitter winter weather has left more than 120 people dead and is threatening the lives of thousands.

In northern India, more than 100 deaths have been blamed on cold winds and freezing temperatures, with the poor suffering the most.

In China, the worst winter in decades has left more than 20 people dead and raised fears that thousands could starve. Roads were impassable -- leaving tens of thousands without food and supplies. Snow buried some houses. Estimates of damage ran to more than $1 million.

In Russia, temperatures hitting at least minus 40 Celsius (minus 40 Fahrenheit) have overwhelmed heating plants -- leaving thousands shivering in the Siberian and Far East regions.

graphic Blizzards in Asia
CNN's Nandini Kochar reports the poor are suffering the most

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CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon shows the effects of the blizzard

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And in Japan's Kanto and Tohoku regions, heavy snow and strong winds arrived Sunday night, for the first time this winter. Heavy snow also was expected Monday in the Tohoku area. The Yamagata and Tohoku bullet trains were halted all day Monday.

Worst storm in 50 years

In northern China, government sources said on Monday that thousands were facing starvation after a devastating storm of sand and snow that began on New Year's Eve and has left at least 21 people dead.

The three-day storm dumped 60 centimeters (24 inches) of snow mixed with sand from the Gobi desert and stranded herdsmen and their families in deep drifts. It was the worst in 50 years to lash vast stretches of Inner Mongolia, according to a Chinese Red Cross official.

Lan Jun, vice director of the China Red Cross, said 900,000 people had been affected by the storm and 10,000 head of livestock were confirmed dead.

"On New Year's Eve, the Xilin Gol Meng, Xingan Meng, Hu Meng, Chifeng and Tongliao areas of Inner Mongolia experienced the worst snow-and-sand storm in 50 years," Lan said in Beijing.

One elderly woman succumbed to the bitter and blinding winds after trying to reach a shed just 40 meters (44 yards) from her home to feed her sheep and cows, a Xilinhot city official said.

The body of a shepherd, who had apparently struggled to lead his flock to safety, was discovered half buried in snow on Sunday, six days after he left his brother's home, said the official, who requested anonymity.

"People could only see objects two meters (6.6 feet) away during those first three days," he said.

"Twenty-one are dead and four are missing according to information available, but the figures will surely rise," a Xilin Gol region official said. "Many victims cannot be calculated because of communications failure and the isolation of some families."

Disaster strikes thousands

One regional official estimated that 10 percent of the area's 10 million head of livestock may not make it through the disaster.

Shortages of diesel and gasoline had made it difficult to clear snow drifts and ferry desperately needed food and supplies to families and their animals, officials said.

Xilin Gol Meng, a 205,000-square kilometer (80,00 square mile) swathe of terrain about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Beijing, appeared to be the hardest hit, but other parts of Inner Mongolia also reported crippling conditions.

The city of Chifeng said the snowfall was the worst in 20 years, dumping a mixture of sand and ice more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) deep, according to a state television report.

Video images from Inner Mongolian TV showed automobiles that had slipped off roads and a bulldozer pushing through a deep pile of snow. One house was buried to its roof, with a tunnel leading to the front door.

Shortage of food, supplies

The China Daily said 120,000 people were in need of food and supplies and that local authorities were asking the Inner Mongolian government for 70 million yuan ($8.5 million) in aid.

It said they also requested 5,000 metric tons of diesel and 1,000 metric tons of gasoline to cope with the disaster.

"Xilinhot has mobilized all its available vehicles, including tractors, to clean snow on major roads, provide supplies and find bodies on the grasslands," a city official said by telephone.

"National roads have been opened, but not roads to counties," he said.

Authorities were also seeking feed for livestock, many of which were unable to forage for vegetation that is frozen under sandy snow.

The Red Cross has issued 50,000 yuan in aid and 1,000 cotton blankets, said Lan, who estimated the storm caused 900 million yuan ($108.5 million) in damage.

India in deep freeze

In northern India, a week of bitter cold is expected to grow worse in the next 48 hours, meteorologists said.

In addition to the poor, hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees are shivering in makeshift camps in Pakistan.

Cold winter winds sweeping in from Kabul and Kandahar, say meteorologists, are the reason for the extreme cold that has whipped across northern India.

Even in the plains, daytime temperatures have plunged to near freezing.

The weather has caused havoc for travelers. On Monday, a dense fog blanketed India's capital, bring already dense traffic to a snail's pace.

International and domestic flights were delayed for hours, as visibility dipped to less than 100 meters (110 yards). And trains were delayed throughout northern India.

Russians shivering

In Russia, more than 2,000 people were left without heat after a malfunction in the city of Chita in eastern Siberia, ORT television said.

Russian apartments generally get central heat from central municipal plants. Facilities are often dilapidated due to money problems.

In Novosibirsk, some 2,800 kilometers (1,750 miles) east of Moscow, 27 apartment high-rises were left without heat after a steam pipe broke, government RTR television reported Monday.

Outside temperatures rose only to minus 40 Celsius during the daytime. Other buildings were left without electricity when massive use of portable electric heaters triggered circuit breakers, NTV reported.

In Novo-Shaktinsk in the Primorye region in the Far East, workers were still struggling to restore heat to hundreds of people after a December 26 failure of the town's heating station. Children were being taken to a sanitarium that still had heat outside town, RTR said.

CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon, CNN New Delhi Correspondent Nandini Kochar and Reuters contributed to this report.


Thousands starving after north China blizzard, paper reports
January 7, 2001

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