02/14/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Snowstorms: damages mount, fears over agriculture and inflation

The army's work to restore the electrical grid continues; some areas are still isolated and without electricity. Extremely serious damage to agriculture, and record inflation forecast for January. Solidarity is also growing.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Civil affairs minister Li Xueju has released updated figures on the damage caused by bad weather in recent weeks.  The worst snowfall in 50 years has killed 107 people, and has caused direct damages of 111.1 billion yuan (15.4 billion dollars).  About 1.5 million people have been evacuated from their homes, 354,000 houses have collapsed, and 1.4 million have suffered damage.  It is estimated that at least 1.93 million travellers have had to cancel previously planned trips.

But the emergency has not ended, and yesterday prime minister Wen Jibao told the army to continue with its aid operations.  The South China State Grid, which manages electricity distribution in the south, says that the network will not be repaired until the end of March, because the snow has knocked down whole rows of pylons.  Meanwhile, the government forecasts that electricity and transportation will be restored within the week to the areas that are still without them, after one month. 

Agriculture has suffered the worst damage, especially in Hunan, Guizhou, Jiangxi, Anhui, Hubei, Zhejiang, Sichuan, and Guangxi. Civil affairs minister Li Xueju says 25.3 million hectares of crops have been "devastated", and another 177 million "damaged", while 69 million farm animals (especially poultry) have died. At least 10 percent of the country's forests have also been damaged.

The damage to transportation and agriculture is expected to lift inflation to more than 7% in January.

Meanwhile, the population is rediscovering solidarity toward the people struck by the bad weather. The Chinese have donated about 1.2 billion yuan in money and essential supplies.

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