Beijing: Beijing authorities shut schools, mobilised extra buses and ordered thousands of residents to help clear icy roads and paths with shovels on Monday, as the Chinese capital struggled with its harshest winter weather in years.
North China began the working week after a blast of harsh cold and heavy snow blanketed the region over the weekend, paralysing highways and forcing the cancellation of many flights.
"Low temperatures and ice-covered roads are expected to severely affect local traffic on Monday," Song Jianguo, the head of the Beijing traffic management bureau, told the official Xinhua news agency.
So far there are no signs the cold spell will trigger the weeks-long disruptions and power cuts that hit some parts of southern China in unusually icy cold in 2008.
But the tough weather could push up food prices, delay flights, and hold up some business in Beijing and other cities for a few days.
The cold snap could also strain gas supplies. Unusually cold weather in the past two months has also caused gas shortages as distribution networks struggled to meet demand.
The wave of cold is expected to continue through the first part of the week.
China's national meteorological office warned that temperatures in its far north could fall to around minus 32 degrees Celsius (-26F), while Beijing shivers at about minus 10 degrees Celsius in daytime.
Large parts of the Korean peninsula were also blanketed with heavy snow on Monday that snarled the rush hour commute in Seoul and caused havoc on the first working day of the New Year.
The Chinese capital has become used to milder, largely snow-free winters in recent decades. The snowfall over the weekend was the biggest in Beijing since 1951, with falls of up to 20 centimetres (7.8 inches) in the city's far north near the Great Wall, local television news reported.
On Sunday, more than 90 percent of flights at Beijing's Capital International Airport, the country's busiest, were cancelled or severely delayed. Many highways out of Beijing were shut too, and on others stalled cars and jack-knifed trucks created long tailbacks of traffic.
The cold spell across southern China last year prompted public grumbling about an initially tardy, fumbling official response. This time, the government appears determined to avoid such complaints.
Railway, airport and road authorities have all announced plans to minimise delays and get transport moving.
First Published: Monday, January 04, 2010, 09:54