Heavy snow brings Beijing to standstill

BEIJING Sun Jan 3, 2010 10:49am EST

1 of 12. Paramilitary policemen stand guard in front of the late Chairman Mao Zedong on a snow-covered Tiananmen Square in Beijing January 3, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Heavy snow hit Beijing on Sunday, stranding thousands of passengers at the main airport and casting an unusual quiet over normally busy streets as people stayed out of the freezing weather.

More than 90 percent of flights at Beijing's Capital International Airport, the country's busiest, were canceled or delayed, state television said, with only one of its three runways open.

Airports in the nearby cities of Tianjin, Hohhot and Dalian closed, the report added.

Many of the highways out of Beijing were shut, with several centimeters of snow blanketing roads and temperatures expected to touch lows of -16 Celsius (3.20F).

The last time northern China was hit by a spell of snow storms in November food prices spiked due to delivery difficulties, driving up inflation unexpectedly that month.

The latest snowstorm and the likelihood roads may stay backlogged for several days could fuel fresh worries about inflation. State radio said some vegetable prices had begun to rise following the snow.

Long lines formed at the airport terminal in Beijing as passengers waited to rearrange their flights or get taxis or buses out. On the Tarmac, workers in orange jackets shoveled snow and ice from around grounded aircraft.

Passengers expressed resignation.

"I came very early to catch my plane because I knew it was going to snow," said Xiao Guo. "I hoped to come early and get through the check-in process and see what time the plane would leave, but according to the airport it will not leave today."

Schools in Beijing will be closed on Monday. The city set 300,000 people to work clearing away snow.

HEAVIER SNOW

On one highway into Beijing from Hebei province police stopped trucks on the roadside, causing lengthy queues. Several had jack-knifed off the road.

The government mobilized almost 200 snow-clearing vehicles to keep traffic flowing downtown, Xinhua news agency said, and upgraded the snowstorm alert from blue to yellow.

"The yellow alert means that the snowfall is going to turn heavier," Xinhua quoted Guo Hu, Beijing's chief meteorologist, as saying.

The snow is expected to stop falling in Beijing on Monday, but temperatures are likely to drop further, with lows of around -20 Celsius, forecasters said.

Beijing, which over the past few years has seen little winter snow, has experienced several falls so far this season, including at least one man-made snowstorm to help ease a prolonged drought.

The weather is also affecting large swathes of the rest of northern and northeastern China, with snow and plunging temperatures expected to continue into the first full week of the new year, according to weather forecasts.

(Additional reporting by James Tong, Simon Rabinovitch and Li Jiansheng; Writing by Ben Blanchard)

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