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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 11:54 GMT
Thousands trapped in China snow
Chinese soldiers clear snow to rescue a truck stranded at Altay, northwest China's Xinjiang province
Transportation is a problem in snow-covered Xinjiang
Almost 250,000 people in north-western China have been trapped by heavy snowfall, as the country faces its worst winter in 20 years.

Temperatures have plummeted to -43C, and snow is blanketing large parts of Xinjiang province.

Almost 100,000 people have been evacuated after their homes collapsed under heavy snow.

More than 5,000 people are being treated for frostbite, four of whom had to have limbs amputated.

But forecasters are warning this is just the beginning of a cold freeze, and that China needs to brace itself for the chilliest winter in 20 years.

According to the BBC correspondent in Beijing, Louisa Lim, this wraps up a year of extreme weather conditions following the hottest summer in more than 50 years.

Government appeal

About 60cm (two feet) of snow is covering parts of Xinjiang, according to Wang Zhenyao, a disaster relief official with the civil affairs ministry.

"The most urgent issue right now is to ensure traffic and transportation," Mr Wang told a briefing in Beijing on Friday.

Snow has reportedly blanketed the eastern province of Shandong too, cutting off roads and grounding aircraft.

China's government is appealing to private companies and millionaires to give more money to those in need across the country, saying 18 million people affected by natural disasters are still waiting for aid.

There has also been heavy snow in Japan in the past few weeks - killing dozens of people and paralysing the transport system.

Most of the casualties have been elderly people who tried to clear snow from the roofs of their houses.

According to Reuters news agency, a 93-year-old woman and her daughter were crushed to death in Ishikawa prefecture on Thursday, when their house collapsed under the weight of the snow.

The snowfalls have been among the heaviest the country has ever seen.

Japanese meteorologists expect another two powerful cold air masses to pass over the country during the weekend.

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