27 killed in 'worst blizzards for 50 years'

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The Independent Online

Two young children who froze to death in blizzards on their way home from school in remote Xilingol in Inner Mongolia are among at least 27 victims of storms that the China Red Cross calls the worst in 50 years.

Two young children who froze to death in blizzards on their way home from school in remote Xilingol in Inner Mongolia are among at least 27 victims of storms that the China Red Cross calls the worst in 50 years.

Up to 120,000 people are in desperate need of food and supplies after 36cm (14in) of "yellow snow" fell in blizzards that began on 1 January. The snowfalls were up to 10 times heavier than in previous years, turning yellow because of high winds whipping up sand in the Gobi desert. With temperatures plummeting to below minus 40C in some areas, state media believe more than 16,000 head of livestock have frozen to death. Relief efforts have been hampered by blocked roads to the Xilingol region, which is some 250 miles north-west of Beijing. Among the 900,000 people affected are many ethnic Mongolians who depend entirely on their herds.

Chinese officials reported 14 people missing, with the death toll expected to rise. Meteorologists say cold air from Siberia, where temperatures are below minus 50C, met a moist current sweeping northwards to create a band of storms also hitting Japan and Korea. Local authorities in Inner Mongolia, one of the poorest parts of China, have requested helicopters and tracked vehicles to help reach those in need.

One official estimated that 10 per cent of Xilingol's 10 million head of livestock may perish in the cold. Over the past year, herdsmen over the border in Outer Mongolia have also lost roughly 10 per cent of the nation's 30 million livestock, through a combination of drought and the worst winter in 30 years. The devastation of Mongolia's rural economy and society has prompted the UN to call for emergency relief.

In South Korea, the storms began on Sunday, blanketing the country in snow as deep as 98cm. Three fishermen drowned after boats capsized off the southern coast and a fourth was swept away while fishing. South Korean airports had nearly shut down. Dozens of houses and thousands of barns and fish farms were destroyed and a million farm animals, mostly chickens, have died, adding to property damage of 188bn won (£100m). Parts of Japan had as much as 20cm of snow in 24 hours by Monday.

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