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Heavy fog strands 16,000 in W. China

More than 16,000 passengers were stranded in major airports in west China as thick fog blanketed Sichuan Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region at the weekend.


The Shuangliu International Airport in Chengdu City, capital of Sichuan, was closed Sunday for more than five hours, delaying 121 incoming and outgoing flights. Another four flights were canceled.


One of the busiest transport and distribution centers in southwest China, the airport closed at 4:30 a.m. when the fog, the heaviest this year, developed, said airport spokesman Lu Junming. More than 10,000 passengers were stranded in the airport.


"The visibility was less than 10 meters, far below the minimum 500 meters required for take off," he said, "A total of 485 flights were scheduled Sunday and most would be delayed for at least four hours.


"Some of the flights have taken off, but we don't expect to clear the backlog till late tonight."


The airport might be busy all night long, Lu said.


The fog amid the Spring Festival transportation peak brought heavy burden to the airport, he said.


The fog also led to full or partial closures of expressways linking Chengdu and the cities of Mianyang, Nanchong, Dujiangyan and Ya'an. The traffic gradually began to move at 11 a.m., according to the provincial communications department.


Downtown Chengdu was still covered by fog at 1 p.m. and airport authorities said more fog was expected Monday because of humid conditions.


Fog also shut down the airport for six and a half hours on December 16, delaying hundreds of flights and stranding more than 10,000 passengers.


The Urumqi International Airport, the largest airport in Xinjiang, also saw heavy fog which reduced the visibility to 50 meters from 7 p.m. overnight Saturday and early Sunday, stranding 6,000 passengers.


More than 100 fights from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other cities had to land at other airports in Xinjiang or neighboring Gansu Province, while 16 flights to other cities were canceled according to the Xinjiang Airport Group.


Three flights from central Asian countries were also forced land at alternate airports, it said.


The airport reopened at about 5 a.m. when a flight from Guangzhou City landed.


The airport and airlines provided free meals to passengers who were delayed for two hours and accommodation for those delayed for at least four hours.


(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2009)