Dozens of deaths blamed on rare cold snap in Taiwan

AP , Monday 25 Jan 2016

A young boy enjoys the light snowfall on a tea plantation in the Pinglin mountain area of New Taipei City, Taiwan, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016 (Photo: AP)

Taiwan officials have blamed an unusually cold weather front for the deaths of at least 57 mostly elderly people in the greater Taipei area.

The semi-official Focus Taiwan news website reported that 85 people had died from the cold, citing fire departments and hospitals.

The cold wave abruptly pushed temperatures to a 16-year low of 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) in the subtropical capital where most homes lack central heating, causing heart trouble and shortness of breath for many of the victims, a city official said.

"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 spokesman who identified himself only by his surname, Chang.

The cold snap was blamed in the deaths of 40 people in the capital, Taipei, while the neighboring New Taipei City attributed an additional 17 deaths to the cold weather. Strokes and hypothermia were among the causes of death in New Taipei City, officials there said.

Temperatures in Taipei average 16 degrees C (60 degrees F) in January, according to Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau. Because of the relatively mild norms, most households in Taiwan lack central heating, another suspected factor in the recent deaths.

New Taipei City said it was providing shelter for 91 homeless people endangered by the cold.

The cold front also left 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) of snow on Taipei's highest peak Saturday and stranded vehicles as people headed into the mountains to see the snow.

The same polar front closed schools Monday in Hong Kong, where 130 people had been trapped at day earlier on a peak in the city that also seldom gets such cold weather. Hong Kong temperatures reached 3.1 degrees Sunday.

Temperatures in Taipei are forecast to reach 17 degrees Tuesday.

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