About 11 million people live in Harbin, a city in the northern Chinese province of Heilongjiang — and for many of them, today has been a write-off, with schools, highways, offices and the airport all closed down by intense smog, Reuters reports.
Smog events like this are not uncommon in China — we've previously written about similar extreme smog days in Beijing and new proposed regulations to fight air pollution. But Harbin's smog today has been particularly intense. Visibility is down to 10m in some parts of the city, and levels of fine particulates in the air are many times higher than limits considered hazardous by the World Health Organization. Indeed, the particulate readings — 1,000 micrograms of per cubic metre of fine particles — are the highest ever reported in the country, AP reports. (Particulates are the tiny pieces of solid or liquid suspended in the air. Fine particulates, usually defined as having a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less, can penetrate from the air into lung tissue.)
"I couldn't see anything outside the window of my apartment, and I thought it was snowing," Wu Kai, a 33-year-old homemaker told AP. "Then, I realized it wasn't snow. I have not seen the sun for a long time."
Although it's not entirely clear what caused the pollution, the offical news agency Xinhua has blamed it on people turning their heating on for winter for the first time this year.
BBC News quoted some users of the Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo responding to the smog. "We were all late for class today because we couldn't find the academic building," wrote MaltzZz. Another user, Backpacker Xiao, called Harbin "today's dead city" and made a sardonic reference to the relative occurrence of smog in the country's capital: "Beijing, you're no longer alone. You have us too now."
The smog is expect to last until tomorrow.