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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 10:44 GMT
Chinese troops to aid snow relief
Chinese soldiers clear snow in Shanghai on 29 January 2008
Almost 500,000 troops are being mobilised to help

The Chinese government has deployed almost half a million troops to help people affected by the worst winter weather in decades.

Severe snow has hit central and eastern China, paralysing transport networks ahead of the busiest holiday season.

Some areas are also experiencing food and power shortages, with deliveries of coal and other commodities delayed.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been visiting travellers in affected regions.

On Wednesday he went to the main station in Guangzhou, where hundreds of thousands of people have been waiting, and issued a fresh apology.

Passengers wait outside Guangzhou station on 29 January 2008
Railway stations in Guangzhou are a scene of horror, with countless thousands of desperate and freezing people besieging them
Paul Surtees

"This has been very hard on everyone," he told the crowd.

"Currently every level of government is working on getting electricity restored, after that transport will resume."

On Tuesday, China's Politburo met to discuss the severe weather.

It issued a statement calling on local authorities to increase relief efforts and ensure a supply of coal to power stations.

Bus deaths

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

Map

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

Houses and agricultural land have been destroyed and at least 50 people killed, 25 of whom died when their bus slid off an icy road in Guizhou.

With the snow set to continue, the government has ordered 158,000 soldiers and 303,000 paramilitary officers to help those affected by food or power shortages.

The army has also sent 419,000 quilts and 219,000 padded coats to the worst-hit areas, Xinhua news agency said.

Almost one million police have also been sent to control traffic on congested highways.

Sweepers clear snow in Shanghai on 29 January 2008
Forecasters expect more snow to hit southern China

The snow has blocked roads and railway lines just as millions of travellers are trying to return home for the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on 7 February.

Enormous crowds have gathered at stations, but railway authorities in several cities had stopped selling tickets, Xinhua said.

In Guangzhou, where up to half a million people were reported to be stranded at one point, travellers described grim scenes.

The main station was besieged by "countless thousands of desperate and freezing people" too scared to leave in case they lost their chance to travel, witness Paul Surtees told the BBC from the city.

In an open letter, the government urged migrant workers in the city to abandon plans to travel, Xinhua said.

Some airports in the region have now been reopened and trains are beginning to run, it said.

But officials are warning that more bad weather could trigger further problems.

SEE ALSO
Transport chaos in snow-hit China
29 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Chinese freeze strands thousands
28 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: China weather chaos
28 Jan 08 |  In Pictures
Snow hampers China New Year plans
27 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China in power shortage warning
23 Jan 08 |  Europe
Severe snow hits central China
22 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: China
30 Nov 07 |  Country profiles

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