Hundreds die as blizzards sweep across Asia

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The Independent Online
While Britain shivers in the cold, bad weather has claimed hundreds of lives in Asia and Africa, agencies report.

At least 99 people have died of frostbite over the past week and many more are missing after a series of blizzards hit northern Kazakhstan, the country's State Emergency Committee said yesterday.

Weather forecasters said winds of 70mph brought down power and telephone lines, lifted roofs off homes and blew in windows. Many people were stranded in near-zero visibility and temperatures down to -15C. Winter snowstorms are common in the Kazakh steppes, used in Soviet times to exile political prisoners, but officials say they have been worse this year.

Health officials in Russia say that nearly 250 people have frozen to death in Moscow over the past two months. All the victims registered since the first death on 1 November were drunk, a spokesman for the city's health department told the Interfax news agency. Temperatures in the Russian capital this month have dropped well below freezing, and have been as low as -19C.

In Bangladesh, a cold wave has swept through the north of the country, killing at least 50 people. Most of the victims were children or old women. A cold wave last year claimed about 200 lives.

In southern Africa, heavy rains have broken a long drought, but brought flooding in their wake. In South Africa, flooding has claimed more than 100 lives this week and about 2,000 people lost their homes in the Pietermaritzburg area.

The waters were receding yesterday, but a new threat of disease was emerging. "With so much water around, waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid are easily spread," Adrian Wilson, an official with the regional water board, told the South African Press Association.

Dams in Zimbabwe's western province burst their walls following heavy rains which pounded the area last week, the state news agency Ziana said yesterday. Among the dams was Matabeleland north province's largest water reservoir whose earth wall was not strong enough to contain pressure from water flowing in from supply rivers. And more than 300 people were left homeless in southern Malawi after heavy rains washed away their homes.