57 die as subtropical Taipei sees temperatures plummet to 4C

A mother and daughter play in the light snowfall on a tea plantation in New Taipei City, Taiwan. Picture: APA mother and daughter play in the light snowfall on a tea plantation in New Taipei City, Taiwan. Picture: AP
A mother and daughter play in the light snowfall on a tea plantation in New Taipei City, Taiwan. Picture: AP
An unusually cold weather front has been blamed for killing 57 mostly elderly people in Taiwan's greater Taipei area.

The cold wave abruptly pushed temperatures to a 16-year low of 4C 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. The cold snap was blamed in the deaths of 40 people in the capital, Taipei, while the neighbouring New Taipei City attributed an additional 17 deaths to the cold weather.

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Most excess winter deaths and illnesses are not caused by hypothermia or extremes of cold, but by heart and breathing problems. Frail elderly people are particularly at risk.

Cold weather makes your heart work harder to keep your body warm. It increases your heart rate and blood pressure and can cause changes to your blood that increase the risk of developing blood clots that may lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Low temperatures can make it harder to breathe and can make existing chest problems, such as asthma, worse. There is also more flu circulating during the winter.

If you have reduced mobility, are 65 or over, or have a health condition such as heart or lung disease, experts say it is a good idea to heat your home to at least 18C.

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

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

Temperatures in Taipei average 16C in January, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau. New Taipei City said it was providing shelter for 91 homeless people endangered by the cold.

The cold front also left 9cm of snow on Taipei’s highest peak on Saturday and stranded vehicles as people headed into the mountains to see the snow.

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In South Korea, more than 500 domestic and international flights were cancelled in Jeju as. The island, known for balmy weather and beaches, saw -6C weather. The airport was blanketed in snow over the weekend leading to flight cancellations but was due to reopen late last night. Thousands of tourists were left stranded over the weekend. Yonhap news agency reported that local officials were scrambling to find transport and accommodation.

The same polar front closed schools yesterday 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 3.1C on Sunday.

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, reported Chinese and Japanese media.

Temperatures have dropped in some parts of south-east Asia as well, including Vietnam and Thailand.

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

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