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Excerpts from an article posted on July 8, 1996 by Reuter, in London.

Freak storms wreak havoc as experts issue warning

Freak weather conditions have claimed hundreds of lives and caused chaos across the world in recent days as scientists warned governments that "greenhouse gases" and global warming may distort climates. In Geneva, United Nations officials and scientists at a conference of some 150 signatory countries to the U.N.'s Climate Change Convention appealed Monday to industrial powers to reduce the carbon dioxide they pump into the atmosphere. They urged a tightening of targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions blamed for potentially disastrous global warming. "We will be successful if we get agreement on further commitments that might be made in the process of controlling climate change," conference president Chen Chimutengwende, Zimbabwe's Environment Minister, told reporters. As if to reinforce their message, many regions reported severe disruption from freak weather conditions as they spoke.

Southern China mopped up after some of the worst floods in a century which killed at least 345 in six provinces. Farmers replanted crops, troops buttressed river embankments and officials tried to estimate the scale of damage, while the country remained on high alert for more torrential storms.

In South Africa, freezing temperatures killed at least 17 people - from exposure or suffocation - and snow trapped hundreds more during the weekend as the country shivered with its coldest weather in decades, police said Monday. Some parts of the country recorded their heaviest snowfalls in 60 years. The Eastern Cape experienced its coldest winter since 1981, state radio said.

Record low temperatures, exceptionally high winds and heavy rains hit several parts of France, the weather bureau said. Unseasonable heavy snowfalls blanketed parts of the French Alps and Pyrenees Monday, forcing a cutback in part of the Tour de France bicycle race to avoid snowbound roads. "We get this type of weather only every five or 10 years. In July, you almost never get snow below 3,000 yards. This time, we had snowfalls as low as 1,800 yards," a weather bureau spokesman said.