China’s northeast hit by unseasonable blizzard as heavy snow causes mass disruption

SHENYANG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 6, 2023 - View of the first snowstorm of 2023 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China, November 6, 2023. (Photo credit should read CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

A police officer directs traffic during heavy snowfall in Shenyang city, Liaoning province, northeast China on November 6, 2023.CFOTO/Future Publishing/Getty Images

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Unusually early heavy snowfall blanketed swathes of northeastern China this week, forcing airlines to cancel flights, halting trains and shutting schools and roads in the country’s first major blizzard of the season.

The first snowfall in northeast China usually takes place between late November and early December, state-run news outlet The Paper reported, citing a chief weather forecaster from China’s National Meteorological Center.

In Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, the railway operator halted 51 passenger trains on Tuesday due to the snowstorm. Harbin, the provincial capital, canceled more than 400 flights at its international airport on Monday, while some smaller airports in the province canceled all flights.

Schools, kindergartens, and off-campus training institutions in most parts of Harbin were suspended on Monday and Tuesday, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

In the city of Jiamusi, authorities are investigating after a gymnasium collapsed on Monday amid the snowstorm, killing three students who were trapped inside, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Seven middle school students were playing basketball at the sports club when the roof collapsed on them, Xinhua reported. Three escaped while four others were trapped, the report said.

The cause of the collapse remains under investigation. The gym was completed in 2018 and passed a safety inspection in 2020, according to Xinhua.

Vehicles drive in the snow in Xiangfang District of Harbin, capital city of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on Nov. 6, 2023.  Heilongjiang issued a red alert on Sunday for blizzards, according to the local meteorological service. Multiple cities in the province are expected to experience heavy snowfall, with accumulative precipitation ranging between 20 mm to 40 mm, from Sunday evening to Monday evening, according to the forecast. (Photo by Xie Jianfei/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Heavy snow falls in Xiangfang district of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, on November 6, 2023.Xie Jianfei/Xinhua/Getty Images

This is the second gymnasium collapse in Heilongjiang in recent months. In July, after days of heavy rain, the roof of a school gym in Qiqihar city collapsed onto a student volleyball team, killing 11 people.

The two incidents have sparked public anger and raised questions over the quality and safety of constructions.

Harbin issued a red blizzard alert – the highest in China’s four-tier warning system – on Sunday and Monday.

In the neighboring province of Jilin, more than 200 expressway entrances were closed on Monday due to heavy snowfall.

China’s national weather forecaster issued an orange blizzard alert – the second highest level after red – on Saturday and renewed it on Monday for parts of Jilin, Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia. The alert was lifted on Tuesday.

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