Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Winter storms continue to lash China

PILING UP Snow and freezing rain continued to hamper power supplies and snarl transport as people struggled to make their way home for the Lunar New Year holidays


China warned yesterday the worst was not over in its national weather crisis as desperate holiday travelers jammed transport hubs and others endured bitter winter storms without power or water.

Bracing for still more foul weather and an accelerating travel rush, China has doubled the number of troops and paramilitary forces aiding winter storm relief efforts to more than a million, state media reported.

The worst winter in decades has caused massive transport bottlenecks and power outages across wide areas in the lead-up to next week's Lunar New Year, China's biggest annual holiday.

The China Meteorological Administration said some of the worst-affected central, eastern and southern provinces faced several more days of snow and freezing rain from a cold front parked over the region since early last month.

"The most difficult period is still not over yet. The situation remains grim," Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said during a Cabinet meeting, the China Daily reported.

Travelers stranded for days have begun to flow out of airports, train stations and bus depots following near-complete gridlock earlier in the week.

But hundreds of thousands, if not millions, continue to endure agonizing delays as the country entered the peak holiday travel stretch from yesterday to Wednesday.

Television footage on Friday showed large crowds at the main train station in the southern city of Guangzhou surging toward the few trains leaving, with some people appearing to pass out or get injured in the crush.yesterday morning under a frigid rain but the situation was relatively calm.

More freezing rain overnight in areas north of the city brought new closures along stretches of a key north-south highway, state television said, which showed images of endless lines of cars and cargo trucks at a standstill.

The government said 180 million people were expected to travel home to be with their families for the holiday in what is thought to be the largest annual human migration in the world.

"[The government] has less than five days left to safely send hundreds of millions home. At the same time, they will have to ensure timely delivery of coal to coal-starved power plants," a China Daily editorial said, outlining what is perhaps the government's key challenge.

The conditions have caused widespread blackouts due to frozen power lines, crimped distribution of coal -- the country's main energy source -- and driven up food prices in many areas.

The government said it has thrown in hundreds of additional trains to cope with the huge passenger and cargo demand.

A woman in the city of Chenzhou in hard-hit Hunan Province said by phone that the city of four million had been without electricity or running water for more than a week.

"We light candles for dinner, burn coal for heating, and get water from wells. Then we use the remaining heat after cooking to warm up the water for our baths," said the woman, who gave only her surname, Li.

Prices of food and candles there have spiked, and the blackout has disabled petrol filling stations, but people remained in good spirits, Li said, with typical Chinese stoicism.

"If we can hold on, it will be a special Lunar New Year," she said.

State electricity officials said Chenzhou's power could be at least partially restored later yesterday.

The weather has caused US$7.5 billion in damage, killed at least 60 people and affected at least 105 million more, according to official figures.

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