BEIJING, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- Heavy snow has left 21 people dead in north and central China since Monday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs announced (MCA) Friday.
The ministry did not detail the causes of the deaths, but four children had been reported dead when two school canteens collapsed after heavy snow in Hebei and Henan provinces since Wednesday.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, more than 9,000 buildings collapsed and about 190,400 hectares of crops were affected, causing direct economic losses of around 4.5 billion yuan (about 659 million U.S. dollars), the ministry said.
Over 7.5 million people were affected by the snow, and close to159,000 people had been evacuated from their homes and their stranded vehicles jammed on the roads, it said.
Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju has ordered local authorities to provide food, water and clothing to those still stranded, and to make proper arrangements for people who lost their homes in the snow to get through the winter.
In addition, the MCA and the Ministry of Finance have allocated 20 million yuan (about 2.9 million U.S. dollars) from the central budget to Shanxi and Hebei provinces to help reallocate those affected by the snow and help them build new homes.
In a circular issued on Thursday, the State Council, or Cabinet, noted that China was in a critical phase to deal with the global financial crisis and the A/H1N1 influenza, and called for stepped-up efforts to mitigate damages brought by the snow.
Local authorities should take measures to ensure supply of food, water, power, heating and gas to the public, and should check primary and middle schools, health centers, old folks' homes, and tourist sites for hidden dangers, said the circular.
Timely help must be provided to people having difficulties in their lives, it said.
Meanwhile, public security and traffic department should increase patrol on accident-prone parts of the roads, and should make all-out efforts to make sure expressways and highways stay in function, the circular said.
Authorities must also conduct thorough safety checks on power, telecommunications, and heating, water and gas supplying facilities, it said, urging weather forecast departments to publicize alerts for blizzards and temperature drops in time.
Heavy snow began to fall Monday on northern and central Chinese provinces, including Hebei, Shanxi, Henan, Shandong, Hubei and Shaanxi, and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
Beijing also experienced heavy snow, but no deaths had been reported so far.
In Shaanxi, major highways had reported traffic jams as some vehicles failed to work in low temperature. On the highway linking Xi'an and Shangluo cities, vehicles had been seen queuing dozens of kilometers in chilly winds.
Shenyang Taoxian International Airport in the northeastern Liaoning Province resumed operation at 1:20 p.m. after being closed at 7 a.m. as snow stopped.
By 6 p.m. Friday, major highways that were closed earlier in China's Hebei, Shanxi, Liaoning, Jilin, Shandong, Henan and Shaanxi provinces and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region have reopened, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
But a new snowstorm hit the northeastern Jilin Province Friday, with an expected temperature drop of eight to ten degrees Celsius in the coming week. Jilin Provincial Meteorological Bureau has issued an alert, urging local residents to prepare for heavier snow in the coming two days.
Two major airports in Changchun and Yanji cities were closed in the morning and vehicles were moving like snails in the city proper amid falling snowflakes.