January 8, 2006

Record Snow in Japan, Cold in Delhi as Asia Shivers

By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO -- Troops and volunteers shovelled snow from roofs and roads in Japan and India's capital New Delhi recorded its lowest temperature in 70 years as a cold wave swept across parts of Asia on Sunday.

In China, cattle have died of the cold in the far western province of Xinjiang and a 42-km (25-mile) section of the Yellow River has frozen over in eastern Shandong, officials and news reports said.

At least 20 people have died from exposure, disease and malnutrition in northern Bangladesh over the past three days because of a cold snap there, local newspapers said.

In Japan, troops and workers tried to clear snow that had piled up to more than three metres (10 feet) high in some of the worst-hit areas of Niigata prefecture and to re-open blocked roads in Nagano prefecture. Both areas are northwest of Tokyo.

At least 63 people have died and over 1,000 have been injured since the unusually heavy snowfall began last month, Kyodo news agency said, citing a survey of local governments.

Many of the dead were elderly people who fell from their roofs while trying to clear snow, while others were crushed when their houses collapsed under the weight of the drifts.

"It's frightening," one woman in Akita City in the north of Japan's main island of Honshu told private broadcaster TV Asahi as local government workers began to shovel snow from her roof.

"There were creaking sounds and I couldn't open the doors because of the weight of the snow."

China is in the midst of its coldest winter in 20 years, the China Daily as said.

Even in the usually mild province of Guangdong in the south, temperatures dipped as low as 5 degrees celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday while some local highways have frozen over with 1-3 cm of ice, China Central Television said.

In Xinjiang, where heavy snowfall and temperatures as low as -43 degrees Celsius forced the evacuation of almost 100,000 people earlier in the week, conditions remained testing.

In the province's northern Altay region, temperatures were hovering around -26 degrees Celsius after falling to -37 degrees Celsius and killing cattle over the past few days, an official from the local meteorological bureau said by telephone.


In India, residents of the capital awoke on Sunday to the coldest morning in 70 years with the temperature falling to around freezing point, forcing officials to shut primary schools for 3 days.

Local TV footage showed a thin layer of ice on the grass in parks and on the roofs of cars as people came out for early morning walks.

"I was so excited. This is the first time I have seen it (frost)," a teenage girl wearing a thick sweater told a local channel.

But thousands of homeless and those without heating were hard hit.

"My family kept shivering all night as we don't have a heater. How could one sleep in this cold?" said Premchand Upadhyay, a middle-aged security guard in New Delhi who stays in one room with his wife and a five-year-old daughter.

More than 100 people have died in northern India since December due to the cold.

The coldest recorded temperature in the city is -0.6 degrees celsius (30.92F) in 1935.

Further north, Indian Kashmir continued to shiver on Sunday as overnight temperatures dipped to -6 degrees celsius.

"It is terribly cold, I feel like we are living in a refrigerator," said 34-year-old housewife Rubina Malik.

For the first time in 10 years, parts of the famous Dal lake in the regional capital Srinagar were frozen. Local media said authorities banned children ice skating on the lake after one child fell into the water and drowned when the thin ice cracked.