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Asia Shivers under Record Low Temperatures, Snow

Date: 09-Jan-06
Country: JAPAN
Author: Isabel Reynolds

At least 57 people have died in Japan and transport has been paralysed after some of the heaviest snowfall on record. Television has showed drifts burying the ground floors of houses and almost covering street lamps.

Heavy snowfall in China's far western region of Xinjiang and temperatures as low as minus -43 degrees Celsius (-45 F) have forced the evacuation of almost 100,000 people, the state weather bureau said.

Rescue teams have rushed to the area where up to one 1 metre (3.3 ft) of snow has fallen since late December, the China Meteorological Administration said on its Web site.

Snow has blanketed the eastern province of Shandong too, cutting off roads and grounding aircraft, as China chills in what the China Daily said this week was the coldest winter in 20 years.

In South Korea, temperatures fell as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius in some northeastern parts of the country while snow hit southwestern regions, including Cheju Island.

Late on Friday, the Korea Meteorological Administration issued warnings of more heavy snowfall in parts of Cheju and other smaller islands along the southwestern cost line.

In northern Pakistan, up to 18 people have died from pneumonia in the region hit by a killer earthquake in October, which left over 73,000 dead and millions homeless.

Heavy snowfall and chill winds last weekend disrupted helicopter relief flights, and caused the collapse of many makeshift tents sheltering families next to their destroyed homes high in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier Province.

"This winter will be a struggle for everyone," said International Organisation for Migration chief of mission Hassan Abdel Moneim Mostafa.

LAKE FROZEN

Northern India has also been shivering. For the first time in 10 years, parts of the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar in Indian Kashmir were frozen. A Kashmiri man was killed earlier this week when the roof of his brick-and-wood house caved in due to heavy snowfall.

In Japan, almost 4 metres (13 ft) of snow has piled up in the worst-hit areas of Niigata near the Japan Sea coast, though the snowiest season of the year is yet to come.

A 93-year-old woman and her daughter were crushed to death in Ishikawa Prefecture, 300 km (186 miles) northwest of Tokyo, on Thursday when their house collapsed under the weight of the snow.

Public broadcaster NHK said 57 people, including the latest fatalities, have died because of the bad weather in the past few weeks, many of them elderly people trying to clear snow from their roofs. More than 1,300 people have been injured, it added.

Akita prefecture in the north of Japan's main island of Honshu, has been hit hard by snow in recent days.

Many train passengers were left stranded in the area as services, including the high-speed bullet trains connecting Akita with Tokyo, came to a halt.

"If the snow continues to fall, we will have to think about calling in the armed forces to help out," a spokesman for a disaster management centre in Akita City told the daily Asahi Shimbun.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said cold weather and heavier-than-usual snowfall would likely continue through January, caused by cold air flowing over the country from the North Pole.

This is a phenomenon that occurs on a regular basis, but has lasted longer than usual this winter, an agency official said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Kamil Zaheer in New Delhi, Sheikh Mushtaq in Srinagar and Rhee So-eui in Seoul)

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