YUNNAN, China- Early winter snowstorms of rare intensity blanketed Yunnan province on Monday.
Road travel was badly disrupted and flights cancelled, with thousands of passengers stranded at Kunming Changshui International Airport.
Local meteorological authorities issued 16 alerts for snowstorms and 41 for sudden falls in temperature, warning of icy roads and temperatures below freezing.
A cold snap affecting the province since Friday brought rainstorms, snowstorms and temperature falls of up to 18 C across Yunnan. The hazardous weather is expected to end on Tuesday, the Yunnan Meteorological Bureau said.
Heavy snowfall stranded more than 2,770 vehicles on highways throughout the province and blocked hundreds of kilometers of roads, provincial transport bureau spokesman Zhang Changsheng said.
The bureau said that since Sunday, 207 workers and 116 snow plows have been allocated to clear the snow and guarantee safety, with 198 metric tons of de-icing salt used.
In Heqing county, the army helped police rescue 1,400 people stranded in vehicles on highways and accommodate hundreds in the county on Monday morning.
"With the timely and effective measures guaranteeing road safety, we have not received any reports of road accident casualties," Zhang said.
Nearly 600 incoming and outgoing flights had been cancelled or delayed at Kunming Changshui International Airport as of Monday afternoon, leaving more than 2,000 passengers stranded, the Yunnan Airport Group said.
At its peak on Friday evening, the figure passed 10,000.
Xu Xinyu, an official at the airport, said 4,500 soldiers and workers cleared ice and snow from runways for hours on Monday, enabling the airport, which had to close at about 10 am, to reopen at 2:30 pm.
The airport provided free breakfasts and lunches on Sunday and Monday, Xu said.
Wang Haijun, a 43-year-old passenger from Xi'an in Shaanxi province who was stranded at the airport, was hoping the weather would improve.
"It feels terrible at the airport without knowing when we can go home," Wang said, adding that he appreciated the free meals and water.
Zhang Zhiping, 50, another stranded passenger, said the response to the storm has not been quick enough.
"I see many soldiers clearing ice and snow, but they are not doing it fast enough," he complained.
Another 11 airports in the province were affected by heavy snowfall on Monday with 93 flights cancelled and 8,742 passengers affected, the Yunnan Airport Group said.
The group reminded passengers to call airlines for flight information before going to airports.
The civil affairs authorities in Kunming are acting to help the homeless.
"We are sending quilts, clothing, food and other items to the homeless today, because temperatures may fall below zero at night," Li Jinliu, head of a rescue centre in the city, said.
More than 100 people had been staying at the centre, which provides two free meals a day, as of Monday, Li said. It can accommodate 200 people.
The provincial civil affairs bureau said that floods have left two people missing and affected 29,000. Damage caused by the snowstorms is still being assessed.