URUMQI - The coldest weather in decades has forced all primary schools, which educate 40,000 pupils, in Shihezi, in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, to suspend classes.
Many roads have been blocked by snow and ice in Shihezi, a sub-prefecture-level city in northern Xinjiang, after it was hit hard by the biggest plunge in temperature so far this winter, with the lowest temperature reaching -41 C, according to the local meteorological bureau.
"We've decided to close all primary schools in the city and nearby reclamation farms of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps on Thursday and Friday," an officer surnamed Chang of Shihezi Education Bureau told China Daily on Friday.
"Although the heating system in schools is working well, we worry about the students' safety on their way to school."
A total of 56 primary and middle schools with about 17,000 students in Altay, in northern Xinjiang, were closed on Friday and the students have begun to take their winter holiday 15 days earlier due to the severe cold.
The livestock industry was also affected.
"The winter in Altay is bitterly cold, especially this year," said Xie Zeren, director of the office of the Altay Education Bureau.
"Our schools had been asked to start the new semester 15 days ahead, in August 2010, in a bid to complete class 15 days earlier and dodge the cold snap in January."
It was the first time Altay had taken such a measure.
In January 2010, the Altay and Tacheng regions suffered the worst winter in six decades, when 13 people died and 1,168 were injured.
"The snow disaster (last year) happened just when our students got ready to go back home for the winter holiday," said Xie.
"Thousands of students and teachers were stranded at schools because of the heavy snow and freezing temperature."
Icy weather has also caused traffic chaos in Urumqi, the regional capital, where the temperature remains at around -25 C.
"I waited for the bus for nearly two hours this morning and finally found one coming but it was too crowded to get on," said one passenger in a thick red coat at a bus station.
The Urumqi government has installed 500 buses at the main stations as waiting rooms for passengers.
The Xinjiang regional meteorology bureau said even though the temperature will rise on Saturday and Sunday, the cold snap will continue into next week.