26 Jan 2016

Dozens dead as cold snap hits East Asia

9:01 am on 26 January 2016

A cold snap sweeping across East Asia has killed at least 85 people in Taiwan and stranded 60,000 tourists in South Korea.

Taiwanese media reported deaths from hypothermia and cardiac disease following a sudden drop in temperature over the weekend.

Blizzard conditions in China's Shandong province.

Blizzard conditions in China's Shandong province. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile heavy snow forced the closure of the airport on the Korean holiday island of Jeju, cancelling flights.

The cold spell has also hit Hong Kong, southern China and Japan.

Many of those who died in Taiwan were elderly people living in northern regions such as Taipei and Taoyuan. Those areas accounted for 66 of the deaths.

Another 16 were confirmed dead in the southern city of Kaohsiung.

The temperature in Taipei city fell to a 44-year low of 4°C on Sunday, and many homes in Taiwan lack central heating.

Many victims reportedly had heart trouble and shortness of breath.

"In our experience, it's not the actual temperature but the sudden drop that's too sudden for people's circulatory systems,'' said a city official quoted by AP news agency.

A 56-year-old man surnamed Chen was found dead on the street Sunday morning, reported Focus Taiwan, but most of the victims in the city and its surrounding region, known as New Taipei City, were found indoors.

Authorities have warned people, especially senior citizens, to keep warm and stay out of the cold.

In South Korea, more than 500 domestic and international flights have been cancelled in Jeju as the island, known for balmy weather and beaches, saw minus 6°C weather. The airport was due to reopen on Monday night.

Some mountain areas in Taiwan saw snow fall as the worst cold wave in 10 years hit the island.

Some mountain areas in Taiwan saw snow fall as the worst cold wave in 10 years hit the island. Photo: AFP

Thousands of tourists were left stranded over the weekend. Yonhap news agency reported that local officials were scrambling to find transport and accommodation.

In Hong Kong, residents shivered in 3°C, the lowest temperature there in nearly 60 years.

Parts of Guangzhou and Shenzhen in southern China have also seen the rare appearance of snow, while the southern Japanese island of Okinawa has seen sleet for the first time ever, report Chinese and Japanese media.

Snowstorms have hit large parts of Japan as well, with more than 600 domestic flights cancelled across the country on Sunday and Monday, reported NHK news.

At least five people have died so far and more than 100 have been injured in Japan.

Temperatures have dropped in some parts of South East Asia as well, including Vietnam and Thailand.

In Bangkok, which rarely sees temperatures below 20°C, temperatures dropped to around 16°C on Sunday, while Vietnam saw the coldest weather in about two decades over the weekend, with Hanoi experiencing 6°C.