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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes
"There are fears that food supplies are running low."
 real 28k

Monday, 8 January, 2001, 17:40 GMT
Deadly blizzards sweep N China
Inner Mongolia location
At least 21 people been killed after devastating blizzards swept across a remote region of north China on New Year's Eve, the Chinese Government reported on Monday.

Three days of blizzards were followed by freezing temperatures and violent sandstorms, which have left tens of thousands of herders, and their livestock stranded on the vast grasslands of Chinese Inner Mongolia.

More than 60cm (24 inches) of snow mixed in with sand from the Gobi desert fell in what have been described as the worst storms for 50 years.

Now there are fears that the death toll could go much higher as food and fuel supplies run short.

Died metres from home

According to an official in the city of Xilinhot, one old woman succumbed to the bitter and blinding winds after trying to reach a shed just 40 metres from her home to feed her sheep and cows.

And the body of a shepherd boy, who had apparently struggled to lead his flock to safety, was discovered half buried in snow on Sunday, six days after he left his brother's home.

"People could only see objects two metres away during those first three days," an official said.

Lan Jun, vice-director of the China Red Cross, said that 900,000 people had been affected by the storm and that 10,000 head of livestock were confirmed dead.

Livestock at risk

It is estimated that 10% of the area's 10 million head of livestock may not make it through the disaster.

Xilin Gol Meng, a 205,000 square km (80,000 square mile) swathe of terrain about 400 km (250 miles) north-west of Beijing, appeared to be the hardest hit.

There a regional official warned that "the figures will surely rise, many victims cannot be calculated because of communications failures and the isolation of some families."

Seeking aid

According to the China Daily, local authorities have asked the Inner Mongolian government for 70 million yuan ($8.5m) in aid and requested 5,000 tonnes of diesel and 1,000 tonnes of gasoline to cope with the disaster.

Authorities are also seeking feed for livestock, many of which are unable to forage for vegetation that is frozen under sandy snow.

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30 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese gourmets 'destroy desert'
06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China battles against sand invasion
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