Snow excites visitors, upsets locals in northern Vietnam

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A woman in Sa Pa District, Lao Cai Province leading a herd of bulls to warmer ground. Photo by Khanh Van

Rare snowfall on Sunday and Monday brought curious visitors to Lao Cai Province but cost the mountainous province billions of dong in damages.

Nguyen Ngoc Hinh, deputy chairman of Sa Pa District People's Committee, told Thanh Nien Tuesday afternoon that the sleet caused about VND5 billion (US$235,000) in damages to his district.

Nearly 50 hectares (123 acres) of chayote trees in and around the resort town of Sa Pa were reported damaged by the snow, but Hinh said many more hectares of crops had been damaged as many agricultural production areas were completely covered with snow.

More than a dozen of cattle in Sa Pa, San Sa Ho, Ta Giang Phin and Ta Phinh communes in Sa Pa District died from the extreme cold.

The snowstorm also felled many electric poles on a section of 4D Highway from Sa Pa to the adjacent province of Lai Chau, causing blackouts in many areas.

Snow covered a section of the highway that passes O Quy Ho Mountain Pass, but as of Tuesday afternoon, it had been removed and authorities were allowing vehicles to pass as normal.

The storm also caused the collapse of a company house for workers in Y Ty Commune, Bat Xat District, but no one was killed or injured.

According to Bat Xat's agriculture department, the snow caused a loss of more than 1,400 hectares of crops, including a large area of long-growing cardamom that was buried under snow for several days and would not be easily restored.

Ma Quang Trung, director of the Lao Cai Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, told Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper Monday afternoon losses in the province totaled about VND10 billion.

Trung said authorities in Lao Cai would calculate the damages and draw up plans to support locals.

Luu Minh Hai, director of the Lao Cai Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, said this year's snow occurred earlier, was heavier and caused worse damages to larger areas than ever before in Lao Cai.

Sung Seo Lao, 71, of Sa Pa's O Quy Ho Commune, said: "I have lived here for nearly all my life, and seen many snowfalls, but perhaps this is the biggest."

"Snow is beautiful and joyful, but we local people are suffering."

Heavy snowfall, which is not a familiar phenomenon in a tropical country like Vietnam, caused traffic difficulties, but attracted visitors to Sa Pa who wanted to play with the snow and take photographs.

More than 15,000 visitors came to Sa Pa between last Sunday and Tuesday, Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon) newspaper quoted the Lao Cai Train Station administration committee as saying.

Le Thanh Hai, deputy director of the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, said this was the first time in recorded history that Lao Cai and Ha Giang Province's Dong Van District had experienced snow as early as mid-December.

He said frost would hold over in Sa Pa and Dong Van for a while after the snow disappears.

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