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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 16:09 GMT
Transport chaos in snow-hit China
Stranded passengers wait outside Wuhan railway station on 28 January 2007
Travellers are waiting at railway stations around the region

The heaviest snow in decades is continuing to cause chaos across China ahead of the busy Lunar New Year holiday, state media report.

Road and rail links have been cut, thwarting tens of millions of travellers trying to return home.

Premier Wen Jiabao went to one of the worst-hit provinces and told would-be travellers the trains would run soon.

Reports so far say more than 50 people have been killed in the cold, 25 when a bus slid from an icy road in Guizhou.

The snowstorms, which began on 10 January, are the worst for half a century and have affected nearly 80 million people across 14 provinces.

Today is our fifth day on the bus. Every day we each get two packs of instant noodle
Frustrated traveller on Guangzhou-Hunan highway

The central provinces of Hunan and Hubei have been hardest hit, but eastern provinces are also affected.

Houses and agricultural land have been destroyed, leading to economic losses totalling 22.09bn yuan ($3bn, 1.5bn), the official news agency Xinhua said.

Highways blocked

Transport woes have been exacerbated by the fact that tens of millions of people, many of them migrant workers from other parts of China, are travelling to visit their families for the Chinese New Year holiday, beginning on 7 February.

The Lunar New Year festivities are as important to many Chinese people as Christmas is in the West - particularly as the holiday is often they only time some people see their families.


In Guangzhou, about half a million people have been unable to travel because snow in Hunan has blocked a key rail link with Beijing.

Officials were trying to accommodate the stranded passengers, who were creating camps around the station.

Police and soldiers were also on the scene to control the crowd.

Highways connecting Guangzhou and Hunan have also been blocked, with 20,000 vehicles stranded on one expressway, Xinhua said.

In one of them was a man taking 10 children to visit their migrant worker parents in Guangdong.

"Today is our fifth day on the bus," he told the agency. "Every day we each get two packs of instant noodles to eat."

Tens of thousands more people were said to be waiting at stations across central and eastern China, while flights have been delayed or cancelled.

More snow

Mr Wen made a difficult journey to see some waiting travellers in the capital of Hunan province, Changsha.

He had to go via neighbouring Hubei province because the airport at Changsha was closed by the icy conditions.

After meeting senior officials. he went to the city's railway station, where he told stranded travellers: "First of all we need to get the electricity running, then it will not take much time for everyone to be able to go home and pass the Lunar New Year."

Power shortages have also become a problem, with Mr Wen warning of serious difficulties.

Stockpiles of coal - upon which many of China's power stations depend - are low and 17 provinces have introduced blackouts to ration power.

Officials say aid is being set aside to help hardest-hit provinces.

Economics professor Shi Jinchuan from the university of Zhejiang in Hangzhou - where the army has put up huge tents capable of holding hundreds of stranded travellers - told the BBC the bad weather posed several challenges to the government's economic policies:

  • It might be necessary to invest more in transport infrastructure, testing the government's spending plans
  • Prices are already rising, because of supply shortages
  • Higher temporary prices might feed through into longer-term inflation

In the short term, though, more snow is forecast for central regions in the next few days, making an early end to the chaos unlikely.

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