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1/29/2008

Snow slams China; half million stranded at train station

A driver Monday braves the streets of the Suzhou Industrial Park in Suzhou, China.

BEIJING, China (CNN)
-- Chinese workers and army soldiers were racing to sweep snow-covered highways and unclog railway routes for millions of travelers trapped by cold weather.

More than 67 million people have been affected by the weather and economic losses are expected to reach as much as $3 billion, Chinese officials say.

Blizzards have snapped power lines and destroyed houses and farmland, prompting fears of food and energy shortages. Twenty-four people have died and some 827,000 people have been evacuated in 14 different provinces, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said Monday.

In the past week, the snowstorms have hit the provinces in central, eastern and southern China -- places that are used to mild winters, not extreme wintry blasts.

"We've never seen such a cold weather lasting for such long a time," said Tang Shan, a man in his 70s in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. "The last time we had one here was over 50 years ago, and not this bad."

The snow and sleet have paralyzed roads, railways and airports, leaving tens of millions of travelers marooned, officials say. Many of them are bound for home ahead of the traditional Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, which falls on February 7.

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