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Visibility has been reduced to less than 50 meters and pollution soared 40 times its normal value in Harbin, a city in northern China, at a time when the region enters its highest pollution season.

The arrival of cold weather usually means heavy air pollution in China due to a combination of weather factors and an increase in the amount of coal burned for heating. In Harbin, heating systems started working last Sunday, causing this heavy fog on Monday, according to state media.

“I couldn’t see anything from my window, I thought it was snowing” said Wu Kai, housewife and mother, in a telephone interview “But it wasn’t snow. Then I realized I haven’t seen the Sun in a long time.”

Another woman interviewed told the press her husband went to work with a mask on. People could barely see a few meters away and buses were out of service. “It’s scary and dangerous. How people can drive or walk on a day like this?”

Some elementary and middle schools as well as several roads have been closed, officials said. Meanwhile 40 flights with different destinations were canceled or delayed on Monday morning at the Harbin Taiping International Airport.

Levels of Contamination are Alarming

The World Health Organization recommends daily levels of particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers to be no more than 20, being anything above 300 is considered dangerous. In some parts of Harbin, levels reached 1,000.

The smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

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