BEIJING — Unusually early snowstorms in north-central China have claimed 40 lives, caused thousands of buildings to collapse and destroyed almost 500,000 acres of winter crops, the Civil Affairs Ministry said Friday.
Nineteen of the deaths resulted from traffic accidents related to the storms that began Nov. 9, the ministry said in a statement on its Web site.
The snowfall is the heaviest in the northern and central provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Shandong and Henan since record keeping began after the establishment of the Communist state in 1949, the ministry said without giving detailed figures. It estimated economic losses from the storm at 4.5 billion yuan, or $659 million.
Chinese state media say some of the snow was induced through cloud seeding, although the precise amount of snowfall in all areas was not reported, and it wasn't clear what the previous records were.
Hebei's provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, received the heaviest snowfall - 3.7 inches - on Nov. 10, the day of the heaviest flurries. Neighboring Beijing, which usually suffers through long, cold and extremely dry winters, reported about 1 inch.
More than 7.5 million people have been stranded or otherwise affected by the storms, which caused the collapse of more than 9,000 buildings, damaged 470,000 acres of crops, and forced the evacuation of 158,000 people, the ministry said.
State media have reported at least two deaths were caused by the collapse of buildings, including a school cafeteria.