Heavy snow strands 150,000 in China on Lunar year holidays
cynthia yoo | January 27, 2008 at 12:28 pmby
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Power cuts blamed on ice and unusually heavy snowfall left almost 150,000 people waiting for trains in the key southern Chinese rail hub of Guangzhou on Sunday, state media reported.
With the advent of China's annual peak Lunar New Year travel season, that number was expected to rise to as high as 600,000 on Monday, leaving Guangzhou authorities scrambling to arrange temporary shelters in schools and other public buildings, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
About 100,000 people spent Saturday night sleeping in the station's yard in a steady drizzle.
The backups have been compounded by a slowdown in bus travel due to the closure of highways covered with thick sheets of ice. Air travel has also been affected, with numerous flights delayed out of Shanghai, where light snow was falling.
The bad weather came at the worst possible time for travelers and transport authorities, as tens of millions of Chinese were on the move by train, plane and bus.
The weather emergencies highlight the issues and tensions caused by China's rapid development.
Even without further damage to the grid, authorities expect it will take a few days to restore rail connections to normal, Railway Ministry officials told broadcaster CCTV.
Most of the delays were blamed on cuts that left 136 electric passenger trains stranded on the tracks in Hunan province, at the midpoint of the main Beijing-Guangzhou railway, Xinhua said.
Xinhua said the ministry has instructed 63 trains to bypass sections where power had been cut along the heavily used lines from Beijing to Hong Kong and from Shanghai to the southwestern city of Kunming. Additional trains have been dispatched to pick up stranded passengers, it said.
Most of those stuck in Guangzhou were migrants working in the region's export industries who were returning to their homes elsewhere for the holiday, the main time for Chinese family gatherings. The holiday this year falls on Feb. 7.
Hunan and other parts of central China have been hit in recent days by freakishly cold weather, icy rain and snow that has accumulated on power lines, causing them to snap in places. Some areas have seen the heaviest snowfalls in more than a decade, with more bad weather forecast for the coming days.
The railway authority had sent almost 22,046 pounds of rice, vegetables, meat, and edible oil, along with 20,000 boxes of instant noodles and drinking water to relieve those stuck aboard trains, Xinhua said. About 100 diesel locomotives were being dispatched to move the trains along, the report said.
The harsh weather has aggravated the customary winter power cuts by blocking coal deliveries, while the government last week issued a wide-reaching order to speed up food shipments to markets in hopes of reining in persistent inflation. Under the measure, food trucks will be exempt from paying road tolls.
Double-digit percentage increases in food prices for much of the past year have driven China's overall inflation rate to among its highest levels in a decade. In December, consumer prices were 6.5% higher than in the year earlier.
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