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Heavy snow, sandstorm strand rescuers at airport

2010-04-26 09:07 BJT

Special Report: 7.1-magnitude Quake Hit Qinghai, China |

XINING, April 25 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of rescuers heading for quake-hit Yushu are stranded at Xining airport of northwest China's Qinghai Province due to heavy snow in Yushu and a sandstorm in Xining, the provincial capital.

The air route from Xining Caojiabao Airport to Yushu was recently dubbed as "lifeline of the air" as it was vitally important for getting immediate relief and rescuers to Yushu, which was jolted by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake on April 14.

All the six daily flights from Xining to Yushu were delayed, said a spokesperson with Caojiabao Airport.

A sandstorm had shrouded the airport, with the airport terminal smelling of dusty sand and chairs covered by the yellow grit. Hundreds of rescuers were still waiting at the airport as of 11 a.m., and it was unknown when the flights would be resumed, the spokesperson said.

The sandstorm also engulfed three other regions in north China, namely Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Gansu Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Gansu has been blanketed in the worst sandstorm of the last nine years since Saturday with the visibility in Minqin County of Wuwei City and Jiuquan City was reduced to zero during Saturday night, according to Lanzhou meteorological observatory.

"Before the sandstorm hit, the weather was fine and it was not even sunset yet, but next thing you know, a strong wind bringing heavy sand blew at me, like a wall of sand, and the sky suddenly became dark," said a resident at Minqin.

Li Ying from Alxa Left Banner, Inner Mongolia, was still terrified while recalling the sandstorm.

"The wind was so loud that it woke me up at Saturday night and I couldn't fall sleep again. After I got up and looked outside Sunday morning, I was astonished to see the whole neighborhood was covered with yellow grit."

Sandstorm has caused huge property and agricultural losses.

In Gansu, 1.42 million people were negatively affected and 460 people were evacuated and relocated, according to Gansu Provincial Civil Affairs Department.

The department's statistics also show that 547 houses collapsed and 812 houses were damaged during the storm but fortunately no human losses have been reported yet.

The strong wind has damaged 85 percent of the more than 400 Mu (26.67 hectares) vineyard in Xinjiang's Turpan Prefecture, a place known for its grapes and Hami melons, said Liu Xinsheng, secretary of the prefecture's Committee of the Communist Party of China.

"One third of local farmers' income come from cashing grapes and Hami melons and the wind would slash farmers' income," said Liu.

But experts say that sandstorm's frequency has been on a downward spiral thanks to the reforestation efforts over the years.

Inner Mongolia has 8.6 sandstorms in Spring on average between 2001 and 2010, while the previous decade saw 11 Spring sandstorms annually, according to the region's Ecological and Agricultural Meteorology Center.

Gao Tao with the Inner Mongolia Meteorological Bureau said that sandstorm's current annual frequency was only half of that between 1950 and 1980. And as for the three sandstorms in the region in 2010, the sand was from Mongolia rather than China.

Editor: Jin Lin | Source: Xinhua