updated 1/18/2010 10:14:39 AM ET 2010-01-18T15:14:39

Rescue workers evacuated thousands of rural residents from parts of northwestern China after extreme cold and blizzard conditions killed four people and left half a million snowed under, meteorologists said Monday.

In neighboring Mongolia, an official appealed for help from the international community as his country battles the most severe winter it has seen in three decades.

Storms in China's far western Xinjiang flattened or damaged about 100,000 homes and more than 15,000 head of livestock were killed by the cold front that set in Sunday night.

Herders moved thousands of others to safer pastures at lower altitudes ahead of the latest storm front, which is expected to last through Wednesday.

Temperatures in parts of Xinjiang are set to plunge to minus 45 degrees by midweek, according to Xinjiang Meteorological Station forecaster Wei Rongqing.

Wei said snow was falling in the region's Altay district, where accumulations had already risen to 3 feet (94 centimeters). Altay lies in China's extreme northwestern corner, 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers) northwest of Beijing, the capital.

"Livestock raising has been hit hard. Both wild animals and livestock haven't been able to find food, but now forage has been allocated by the central government," Wei said. Some 500,000 people in total were affected by the harsh weather, he said. The figure includes those who suffered property damage and supply shortages or were isolated by snow drifts and icy roads.

Direct economic losses were being estimated at 300 million yuan ($44 million) as of Thursday and were expected to continue rising, Wei said.

"We're taking emergency measures, including evacuating remote areas," Wei said. Calls to Xinjiang government spokesmen rang unanswered.

Parts of northern China are seeing their harshest winter in decades, with Beijing this month receiving its heaviest one-day snowfall in 59 years. Temperatures in the capital were set to rise above freezing this week.

Also Monday, Mongolia's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Zandanshatar Gombojav said most rural provinces in the poor, landlocked country sandwiched between China and Russia were covered by up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of snow. He said nearly 800,000 animals had been lost while many transport routes were blocked by heavy snow.

"Though the government and the population at large are doing their best, the severity and the duration of such extreme weather could overwhelm our capacity and resources," Zandanshatar said at a press conference.

Mongolia needs emergency supplies including warm clothing, generators, heating devices and first-aid kits, Zandanshatar said.

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