'Smog refugees' struggle to escape 'Airpocolypse' in Beijing

Winter has arrived in Beijing, and residents are struggling to escape the heavy smog that has settled on the city.

This season the air pollution in China — stemming from power plants, factories, vehicles and other sources — has grown so bad during the past five days that it has put the safety of half a billion people at risk.

Since polluted areas of north and central China were put under red alert from Friday until Wednesday by authorities, the haze has thickened, impacting everyday life and causing tens of thousands of "smog refugees" to evacuate.

On Friday, Xinhua, an official news agency in China,reported that road construction has been halted, several schools have suspended classes and residents have been advised to remain indoors until conditions improve.

See more of the air pollution in China:

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Smog in China as seen from space

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BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: (CHINA OUT) Three men walk toward the Capital International Airport in heavy smog on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing has lasted smoggy days for more than one month in winter this year with a higher AQI reaching to 500 on Tuesday which has been rated as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: (CHINA OUT) Visitors play in Temple of Heaven even with heavy smog on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing has lasted smoggy days for more than one month in winter this year with a higher AQI reaching to 500 on Tuesday which has been rated as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A Chinese woman covers her face from pollution as she waits to cross a road on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: (CHINA OUT) Three men walk toward the Capital International Airport in heavy smog on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing has lasted smoggy days for more than one month in winter this year with a higher AQI reaching to 500 on Tuesday which has been rated as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
A tricycle taxi rider waits for customers on a heavily polluted evening in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER / AFP / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
A magpie flies in heavy pollution in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
Ground-staff (L) are seen under an Air China plane at the airport on a polluted day in Beijing on December 1, 2015. China has ordered thousands of factories to shut as it grapples with swathes of choking smog that were nearly 24 times safe levels on December 1, casting a shadow over the country's participation in Paris climate talks. A thick grey haze shrouded Beijing, with the concentration of PM 2.5, harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, climbing as high as 598 micrograms per cubic metre AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR / AFP / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
A skyscraper is shrouded in smog on a heavily polluted day in Beijing on December 1, 2015. China has ordered thousands of factories to shut as it grapples with swathes of choking smog that were nearly 24 times safe levels on December 1, casting a shadow over the country's participation in Paris climate talks. A thick grey haze shrouded Beijing, with the concentration of PM 2.5, harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, climbing as high as 598 micrograms per cubic metre. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER / AFP / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A man rides a bicycle on a day of heavy pollution on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A Chinese worker wearing a mask on a day of heavy pollution on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: Smog is seen on a day of high pollution at the Temple of Heaven park on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A Chinese woman wears a mask as protection from the pollution as she waits to cross a road on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
CHANGCHUN, Nov. 10, 2015 -- Buildings are cloaked by smog in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province, Nov. 10, 2015. Heavy air pollution in northeast China will continue until Nov. 14, partially fueled by burning coal for public heating, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. (Xinhua/Lin Hong via Getty Images)
WEIFANG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A citizen wears a face mask while walking in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Weifang, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
LIAOCHENG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) Elderly citizens drive a tricycle in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Liaocheng, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A traffic police officer wears a face mask while working in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Jinan, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A citizen wears face mask while riding in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Jinan, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) Citizens exercise in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Jinan, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
WEIFANG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) Citizens wear face masks while riding in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Weifang, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
LIAOCHENG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A citizen wears a face mask while riding in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Liaocheng, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: Famous Beihai Park is blanketed by heavy smog on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. Air pollution in north China is heavier as people start to use more heating. (Photo by Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: The Forbidden City is blanketed by heavy smog on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. Air pollution in north China is heavier as people start to use more heating. (Photo by Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A guard wearing face mask stands in heavy smog on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing continues to suffer from dense smog air with its AQI (Air Quality Index) reaching to 234 in the afternoon which has been judged as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) Visitors walk in Tian'anmen square in heavy smog on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing continues to suffer from dense smog air with its AQI (Air Quality Index) reaching to 234 in the afternoon which has been judged as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
HARBIN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 10: (CHINA OUT) A woman takes selfies in the dense smog on November 10, 2015 in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province of China. Heavy air pollution occurred after the coal-burning heating systems were put into use in the cities of Northeast China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
HARBIN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 10: (CHINA OUT) The Saint Sophia Cathedral is shrouded in the dense smog on November 10, 2015 in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province of China. Heavy air pollution occurred after the coal-burning heating systems were put into use in the cities of Northeast China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
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According to The China Daily, the smog has been so disruptive to travel that severe flight cancellations and delays have taken place at local airports. Ctrip, China's leading online travel agent, expected 150,000 people to flee the smog by traveling to places like Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the Maldives.

State media reported that 169 flights were canceled at Beijing Capital International Airport, where visibility fell to 300 meters (984 feet) at one point. In Tianjin, a nearby city, authorities also canceled 350 flights and closed all highways in the municipality, which made it extremely difficult for unhappy residents to escape.

Many people, such as Jiang Aoshuang, decided to take cover in smog-free regions of China, which became quickly packed. Aoshuang told the Global Times she evacuated with her husband and 10-year-old son to stay safe from the smog and protect their lungs.

The family headed to Chongli, a ski resort about three hours north-west of the Beijing, where they discovered they weren't the only ones with the idea. "It really felt like a refugee camp," Aoshuang said.

On Saturday, after pollution levels soared to more than 10 times the safety limit, Beijing and 22 other Chinese cities were forced to impose emergency measures such as banning vehicles from the road and ordering factories and schools to close. Some teachers went so far as to live-stream lessons to children in their classes.

Beijing was also issued smog-related red alerts in 2015, and India has also dealt with serious smog as recently as November.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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