Heavy snow blamed for 15 deaths in China

>BEIJING (AP) – Unusually heavy snowfall in central China has been blamed for at least 15 deaths and has stranded hundreds of thousands of people ahead of the peak Lunar New Year travel season, state media said Monday.

Frigid temperatures caused pipes to burst, leading to water shortages for thousands of residents, the Xinhua News Agency and newspapers reported. Power lines carrying electricity from the massive Three Gorges Dam to Shanghai snapped under a heavy accumulation of ice and snow, state broadcaster CCTV said.

Heavy snow damaged thousands of homes, and at least one person was crushed to death when a roof collapsed at a gas station, the reports said. Xinhua said that collapsing roofs killed six people, and that nine others died in snow-related traffic accidents.

Snow closed highways and forced the cancellation of scores of flights in the provinces of Hubei, Henan, Shandong, Jiangsu and Anhui, where snow in some areas was the heaviest in 17 years.

In Hubei alone, 300,000 people had their travels delayed as they began journeys home for the Lunar New Year, China’s most popular time for family gatherings. This year’s holiday starts Feb. 7 on the Western calendar, but many started traveling weeks earlier to avoid massive crowds that pack trains and buses.

The official government forecasting agency said the heavy snow was caused by moist southern air colliding with frigid winds sweeping southward from Siberia. The forecast said snow would likely continue in the affected areas through at least Tuesday.