BEIJING Dec 18 Authorities in Tianjin grounded
three dozen flights and closed most highways on Sunday after
severe smog blanketed the city, one of more than more than 40 in
China's northeast to issue pollution warnings in the past 48
Air quality index (AQI) readings at some monitoring stations
in Tianjin, a port and industrial city southeast of Beijing,
peaked above 400, state-run news agency Xinhua said. Anything
above 300 is considered hazardous by the U.S. Environmental
China's environmental watchdog issued a five-day warning on
Friday about choking smog spreading across the northeast and
ordered factories to shut, recommended residents stay indoors
and curbed traffic and construction work.
Pollution alerts have become increasingly common in China's
northern industrial heartland, especially during winter when
energy demand - much of it met by coal - skyrockets.
In addition, heavy winds force pollution from nearby
provinces to the Beijing-Tianjin area where it remains suspended
over the cities.
By 10 a.m. on Sunday in Tianjin, 35 international flights
had been delayed or cancelled and all highways in and out of the
city, with one exception, were shut, Xinhua said.
With the density of pollutants expected to peak on Sunday
and Monday, Tianjin's environmental protection department had
strengthened inspections to control sources of pollution
Tianjin was placed on orange alert - the second highest
level - on Sunday. On Saturday, 22 cities issued red alerts
including top steelmaking city Tangshan in Hebei province around
Beijing, and Jinan in coal-rich Shandong province.
Red alerts are issued when the AQI is forecast to exceed 200
for more than four days in succession, 300 for more than two
days or 500 for at least 24 hours.
In Beijing, the city's Municipal Environmental Monitoring
Centre showed air quality readings of above 300 in some parts
Sunday afternoon, but in most the index was below 200.
"When I went out yesterday I didn't wear a mask and my
throat really hurt and I felt dizzy. It was hard to breathe
through my nose," Chen Xiaochong, a hotel manager in the
capital, told Reuters.
"This pollution really is quite dangerous for people, so
it's important to protect the environment."
(Reporting By Norihiko Shirouzu and Natalie Thomas in Beijing;
editing by John Stonestreet)