BEIJING: Hundreds of flights out of Beijing were delayed or cancelled today and highways closed as an unusually heavy snowfall blanketed the Chinese capital.

More than 7.6 cm of snow had accumulated in the city centre by early morning,

according to the National Meteorological Centre. Upward of 20 cm was recorded in the suburbs of Changping near the Great Wall of China, one of the country’s top tourist attractions.

By Sunday afternoon, almost 500 flights out of Beijing Capital Airport had been delayed and 300 cancelled, according to the airport’s information centewr.

Staff were providing updated information every 10 minutes and offering drinking water and snacks — an apparent improvement over the chaotic response to early snowfalls in November that left thousands of passengers irate over a lack of information and services.

The Beijing winter, usually cold and bone-dry, has been unusually wet this year.

Forecasters said the snow would stop falling overnight.

Temperatures that hovered around 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 Celsius)

were set to fall as low as 3 Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius) by Wednesday, the meteorological centre said.

Northern parts of China, including the port of Tianjin, Inner Mongolia and the nearby provinces of Hebei and Shandong, were also blasted by snow, with some seeing blizzard conditions.

The snow forced traffic

to slow to less than 40 km-per-hour on the usually bustling freeway from the new international airport into town.

Several key highways to outlying provinces had been closed or access restricted, according to news reports.

With few snowplows

available, crews equipped with shovels fanned out to clear roads, sidewalks, bicycle paths and treacherous steps leading down into subway stations.

“It’s falling just as fast as we can scoop it up,” said one woman, Zhao Ning, wielding a fan-shaped straw broom the size of a kitchen table near the city’s famed Silk Alley tourist market.

More than 3,000 police officers sought to keep order and prevent accidents, with many streets ankle-deep in snow and new drivers unused to such conditions.