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Dozens dead as cold snap hits East Asia

Published 25/01/2016

Snow sits on the Chinese god statues at the Pinglin temple in the high mountain area of New Taipei City, Taiwan (AP)
Snow sits on the Chinese god statues at the Pinglin temple in the high mountain area of New Taipei City, Taiwan (AP)

Unusually cold weather in eastern Asia has been blamed for more than 65 deaths, disrupting transportation and bringing the first snow to a subtropical city in southern China in almost 50 years.

Temperatures in Taiwan's capital Taipei plunged to a 16-year low of 4C (39F), killing 57 mostly elderly people, according to government officials.

The semi-official Focus Taiwan news website reported that 85 people had died because of the cold.

Most homes in subtropical Taiwan lack central heating and the cold caused heart trouble and shortness of breath for many of the victims, a city official said. Normally, temperatures in Taipei hover around 16C (60F) in January, according to Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau.

The cold snap was blamed for the deaths of 40 people in Taipei, while neighbouring New Taipei City attributed an additional 17 deaths to the cold weather. Strokes and hypothermia were among the causes of death in New Taipei City, officials said.

The cold front also left 9cm (3.5in) of snow on Taipei's highest peak and stranded vehicles as people headed into the mountains to see the snow.

In central and western Japan, h eavy snow left at least five people dead.

The Kyodo News service said the victims included a woman who fell from a roof while removing snow, a man in a weather-related traffic accident, another man found under a snowplough and a couple who fell into an irrigation channel, apparently while removing snow.

An 88-year-old woman in western Japan's Tottori prefecture died after a landslide hit her house, Kyodo and other media reported.

The heavy snow stranded motorists, delayed bullet train services and caused flight cancellations to and from the region.

Most parts of mainland China also experienced their coldest weather in decades over the weekend.

The southern city of Guangzhou, which has a humid subtropical climate, saw snow for the first time since 1967 on Sunday, the city's meteorological service said.

The cold led to at least four deaths - strawberry farmers who died of carbon monoxide poisoning when they turned up heating in a plastic greenhouse, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The cold spell coincided with the beginning of the 40-day travel rush for Chinese new year, which is on February 8 this year, disrupting cars, flights and trains. More than 11,000 passengers were stranded at Kunming airport in southern Yunnan province.

Temperatures fell 8C-16C from Thursday to Sunday in parts of north China, and temperatures in central and eastern China were 6C-8C lower than the average historical level, according to Xinhua.

The National Meteorological Bureau forecast that temperatures in southern China would drop another 3C-8C on Monday.

Temperatures in the South Korean capital Seoul fell to minus 18C on Sunday, the lowest since 2001.

On Saturday, Jeju Island received 12cm (4.7in) of snow, the heaviest since 1984, and its airport was closed from Saturday until Monday.

The shutdown stranded about 86,000 people, mostly tourists, on the island and forced the cancellations of about 1,100 flights, according to transport ministry and airport officials.

A woman died in the south west of China after the railings on her 24th-floor balcony broke as she leaned over to look at the first snow in Chongqing in 20 years.

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