|Serious traffic congestion in Sa Pa Town of northern mountainous Lao Cai Province at about 7pm on Sunday. Tourists have flocked to Sa Pa Town to take a look at snowfall. — VNA/VNS Photo The Duyet
HA NOI — The record cold spell that brought unprecedented snow to parts of Viet Nam has been a hit with tourists, but made life miserable for poor households.
The cold snap has reportedly killed hundreds of cattle – the most valuable asset to many Vietnamese farmers – in the northern mountainous provinces of Lao Cai, Hoa Binh and Cao Bang.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung yesterday sent an urgent message to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and People's Committees of cities and provinces affected by cold weather.
The PM called on localities to continue efforts to protect animals and aquatic creatures for the 2015-16 winter-spring crop.
He asked relevant authorities to keep a close eye on the developments of the weather and to update and inform the people so that they can proactively take measures to limit losses for agricultural production.
MARD should instruct localities, enterprises and local people in affected areas to ensure sufficient supply of food and fresh water while making proper plans for crop cultivation and animal breeding.
According to a preliminary report released yesterday by the Lao Cai Steering Committee of Disaster Prevention and Rescue, Sa Pa Town – the most-visited site over the weekend for first-timers looking for snow, ... snow had wiped out nearly 200ha of agricultural produce.
The town suffered damages of about VND2.3 billion (USVND2,280,210,000) while the province is estimated to have lost more than VND5 billion (VND4,962,810,000).
A series of photos posted on Facebook taken by tourists highlighted the freezing weather with snow covering all the roads and houses. Temperatures in Sa Pa plunged to -5 degrees Celsius on Saturday night, the lowest in years.
Ha Thi Than, head of the Agriculture Division of Hoa Binh's Van Ho District, told Phap luat TPHCM (HCM City Law) that 17 cattle had succumbed to the cold since the whole district was blanketed in snow starting from Saturday night. Long Luong was the hardest hit commune with temperatures plummeting to -2 degrees Celsius.
At least 100ha of rubber plants, tea and plum trees were badly damaged together with another 200ha of vegetables, Than said.
Unofficial reports said more than 500 cattle had died in the three provinces of Yen Bai, Quang Ninh and Lao Cai alone, and the record cold spell is expected to continue.
According to the Quang Ninh departments of animal health, agriculture and rural development, a total of 431 buffaloes, cows, oxen and goats in the province, mostly let to wander in Binh Lieu District, had died by yesterday noon.
Nghe An Province, located in the northern part of the Central region, witnessed the first snowfall ever in its history on Sunday. Up to three centimetres fell in Ky Son District with temperatures falling to -2 degrees Celsius.
However, there have been no official reports on losses in Nghe An or in its neighbouring province of Thanh Hoa, which was also hit by the surprise cold snap. Snow fell in a number of mountainous villages including Cao Son, Sai Khao and Nhi Son for the first time in decades.
Confronted by the destructive extreme weather, which is forecast to last till mid-week, People's Committees in affected provinces have ordered local authorities to come up with solutions to protect the health of residents and reduce damage to the agriculture sector.
Temperatures rose slightly yesterday, but most remained under 10 degrees Celsius.
The Medical Services Administration under the Ministry of Health also asked municipal and provincial Health Departments to ensure hospitals were prepared to treat patients suffering from hypothermia, especially given a recent increase of children hospitalised with respiratory-related sicknesses across the northern region.
Border gate jammed
About 500 trucks carrying Vietnamese agricultural produce remain stranded at the Tan Thanh Border Gate in Lang Son Province – a conventional trade gateway between Viet Nam and China.
Lang Son Customs said that 400 trucks, mostly carried watermelons, dragon fruit and longans were parked in the waiting area for clearance, while another 100 had queued up along National Highway 1A. Snow storms in China were one of the main reasons for the clearance delay, according to Tan Thanh Border Gate Customs. The limited parking area for trucks on the Chinese side was also making the situation worse.
The number of trucks making through clearance fell over the last three days – coinciding with the cold spell that hit across Asia, including China and Viet Nam, said the Lang Son Customs Authority.
Only 147 trucks were cleared on Sunday, falling 50 per cent from two days earlier.
The municipal People's Committee said that it would plan meetings with its Chinese counterparts to solve clearance delays.
It also advised enterprises that export agricultural products to China to monitor the situation at Tan Thanh Border Gate in order to avoid further losses.
Municipal authorities officially closed the road leading up to Sa Pa to all passenger coaches on Sunday, but reopened it as conditions improved.
A Facebook clip showed eight backpackers on motorbikes falling on the slippery road.
The ice, together with the huge influx of tourists who have headed to Sa Pa to see the snow, has turned the road into a major bottleneck.
Lao Cai Traffic Safety Committee Chief of Office Tran Ngoc Son estimated about 6,000 cars flocked to Sa Pa on Sunday, never mind the motorbikes.
"Now vehicles can neither come up or down through the pass," said Son. "They could slide off the road and down the cliff, and the authorities can't let that happen." — VNS