Greg Baker  /  AP
Tourists walk through the Forbidden City in Beijing after an overnight snowfall Monday.
updated 1/22/2008 10:30:36 AM ET 2008-01-22T15:30:36

Unusually heavy snowfall in central China has been blamed for at least 10 deaths and has stranded hundreds of thousands of people ahead of the peak Lunar New Year travel season, state media said Monday.

Frigid temperatures caused pipes to burst, leading to water shortages for thousands of residents, the Xinhua News Agency and newspapers reported. Power lines carrying electricity from the massive Three Gorges Dam to Shanghai snapped under a heavy accumulation of ice and snow, state broadcaster CCTV said.

Heavy snow damaged thousands of homes, and at least one person was crushed to death when a roof collapsed at a gas station, the reports said. Xinhua said three others were also killed by collapsed roofs, but gave no details about the other deaths.

Snow closed highways and forced the cancellation of scores of flights in the provinces of Hubei, Henan, Shandong, Jiangsu and Anhui, where snow in some areas was the heaviest in 17 years.

In Hubei alone, 300,000 people had their travels delayed as they began journeys home for the Lunar New Year, China's most popular time for family gatherings. This year's holiday starts Feb. 7 on the Western calendar, but many started traveling weeks earlier to avoid massive crowds that pack trains and buses.

The official government forecasting agency said the heavy snow was caused by moist southern air colliding with frigid winds sweeping southward from Siberia. The forecast said snow would likely continue in the affected areas through at least Tuesday.

The forecast for Beijing, however, was clear with temperatures around freezing.

In Anhui, an overloaded bus with 72 people on board flipped into a roadside drainage ditch late Sunday night, killing 11 and injuring 51, Xinhua said. It said the bus was licensed to carry just 51 people. It was not immediately clear if weather conditions had caused the accident.

Snow began falling Jan. 12 in Anhui — a poor, agricultural province — damaging 215,000 acres of crops, Xinhua said. CCTV showed snow piled up around vegetables in greenhouses whose plastic outer skins had been torn away by the snow.

In Wuhan, a central industrial and transportation hub city, burst pipes cut water to 100,000 people, forcing the local government to deploy thousands of water tanker trucks.

Heavy snow has also struck the western region of Tibet, stranding people in their cars at high elevations.

By late Monday, 131 people had been rescued from along highways, Xinhua said, with no reports of deaths or serious damage.

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