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Dozens of deaths blamed on rare cold snap in Taiwan

An unusually cold weather front has been blamed for killing 57 mostly elderly people in Taiwan.

The cold wave abruptly pushed temperatures to a 16-year record low of 4C (39.2F) in the subtropical capital where most homes lack central heating, causing heart trouble and shortness of breath for many of the victims.

"In our experience, it's not the actual temperature but the sudden drop that's too sudden for people's circulatory systems," said a city spokesman who identified himself only by his surname, Chang.

The cold snap was blamed in the deaths of 40 people in the capital, Taipei, while the 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 there said.

Temperatures in Taipei average 16C (60F) in January, according to Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau. Because of the relatively mild weather, most households in Taiwan lack central heating, another suspected factor in the recent deaths.

New Taipei City said it was providing shelter for 91 homeless people endangered by the cold.

The cold front also left 3.5 inches of snow on Taipei's highest peak on Saturday and stranded vehicles as people headed into the mountains to see it.

The same polar front closed schools Monday in Hong Kong, where 130 people had been trapped a day earlier on a peak in the city that also seldom gets such cold weather.

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