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Sunday, December 14, 1997 Published at 03:39 GMT

World: Americas

Freak snowfalls hit Mexico
image: [ Mexicans, unused to driving in snow, have found conditions hazardous ]
Mexicans, unused to driving in snow, have found conditions hazardous

At least 12 people have died in freak snowstorms and freezing temperatures which have struck northern Mexico.

BBC Correspondent Emma Paterson reports from Mexico Dur: 1' 05")
Icy roads have caused more than 300 car crashes and the cold spell is forecast to continue for several more days.

The National Weather Service said the cold front, sweeping in from the North Pole, Canada and the United States, has flooded eight northern Mexican states.

[ image: One of the many motor accidents caused by the freak weather]
One of the many motor accidents caused by the freak weather
Roads and schools have closed in Hidalgo, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon.

In most of these states, temperatures have fallen to between -6° and -8° Celsius (17° to 21° Fahrenheit) and the weather service forecast temperatures as low as -19° Celsius (2 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) in some places overnight.

Gale-force winds forced the closure of ports along most of the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, and all through the lower coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Snow fell in the city of Guadalajara for the first time since February 8, 1881 - nearly 120 years; other cities experienced their first snowfalls in decades.

[ image: Bemused people have been clearing away the snow]
Bemused people have been clearing away the snow
By early afternoon, the snow was about 40 centimetres (16 inches) deep in most places and awestruck residents built snowmen. Guadalajara has spring-like weather for most of the year.

Forecasters predicted that snow would fall on the outskirts of Mexico City and perhaps in the capital during Sunday night. High winds have cleared the polluted skies over Mexico City for the first time in weeks.

The cold spell, which some experts linked to the El Nino weather phenomenon, brought tragedy along with the historic snowfalls.

Two elderly men were found frozen to death in the main square of Santillo in northern Coahuila state, where emergency centres were sheltering some 450 families.

In Chihuahua state, where temperatures plunged to -15° Celsius (5° Fahrenheit), a 73-year old man and a six-month-old baby died of the cold.

Other deaths, some from carbon monoxide asphyxiation due to poor heating systems, were recorded in states across the country - three in Nuevo Leon, three in Sonora, and one each in Taumaulipas and San Luis Potosi.

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