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Chinese Officials Warn Citizens About Worsening Air Quality

ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images(BEIJING) -- A city in northern China is blanketed in smog so thick drivers can barely make out what's in front of them. With the AQI reaching 500 (the highest level possible on the scale), "Airpocalypse" is back in China's northeast city of Harbin -- a metropolis home to more people than live in the entire state of New Jersey.

Schools are closed, the airport is shut down, traffic is at a standstill and visibility is so bad drivers on the roads can't even make out red from green traffic lights.  

The government has warned people to stay indoors, though how much it will help is unclear as the vast majority of Chinese do not use costly air purifying systems. Hospitals are reporting a 30-percent surge in patients showing up with respiratory problems.

The air has been bad in recent days, but worsened when on Sunday the government turned on the coal-powered municipal heating system for winter. The city of Harbin sits on the border with Russia and is one of China's coldest cities.

Officials are blaming three factors for the region's thick smog: lack of wind, local farms burning corn leaves and stalks after harvest, and the start of the municipal heating systems. Now the government is making a big push to publicly combat the bad air quality.

Some recent measurements are finding the smog nearly five times as bad as in Bakersfield, Calif. -- America's smoggiest spot.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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