Up to 40 people have been killed and thousands more left homeless after unusually early winter blizzards hit north-central China.
The heavy snowfalls caused nearly 10,000 buildings to collapse and destroyed almost 500,000 acres of winter crops, Chinese officials said. More than 158,000 people have had to be evacuated from their homes.
Around half the estimated 40 deaths resulted from traffic accidents, as the unexpected weather caused havoc on ungritted roads, Telegraph.co.uk reports.
The snowfall is the heaviest in the northern and central provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Shandong and Henan since record keeping began after the establishment of the Communist state in 1949, the ministry said without giving detailed figures. It estimated economic losses from the storm at 4.5 billion yuan (US$659 million).
Chinese state media say some of the snow was induced through cloud seeding, although the precise amount of snowfall in all areas was not reported and it wasn't clear what the previous records were.
Hebei's provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, received the heaviest snowfall. In the three days ending Thursday morning, the snow accumulation there reached 1.8 feet (55 centimeters), the heaviest since 1955, the China Meteorological Administration said Saturday.
More than 7.5 million people have been stranded or otherwise affected by the storms, which caused the collapse of more than 9,000 buildings, damaged 470,000 acres (190,000 hectares) of crops, and forced the evacuation of 158,000 people, the ministry said, The Associated Press reports.
Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju has ordered local authorities to provide food, water and clothing to those who are still stranded, "and to make proper arrangements for people who lost their homes in the snow to get through the winter," Xinhua reported.
It said the Civil Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of Finance have allocated 20 million yuan (about $3 million) from their central budgets to Shanxi and Hebei provinces to help move those affected by the snow and to help them build houses, CNN informs.
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