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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 21:57 GMT
Misery of China's snowbound millions
By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Shanghai

As China continues to endure the worst winter storms in five decades, some roads and airports are beginning to reopen.

Police clear snow in China
Paramilitary police clear snow off an expressway in Nanjing, east China

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has been visiting hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers.

He addressed crowds first at Changsha railway station in Hunan province, then at Guangzhou station in Guangdong.

He promised to get travellers, many of them migrant workers, home for the all-important spring festival holiday.

It is rare for a Chinese politician, especially the prime minister, to apologise so directly to the people.

"Comrades, I'm Wen Jiabao," he began. "I am here to comfort you. You have suffered a lot and I feel your pain.

"The south of the country has suffered from the most serious heavy snow in the past several decades. I totally understand how eager you want to go back home. I can tell you that we are trying our best to restore the power supply."

'It's a joke!'

Mr Wen's comments were also directed to China's provincial leaders.

Squabbling over resources has meant that as many as 17 of China's 31 provinces have been experiencing power-outages, while others are running short of food.

In Beijing, the Politburo met and ordered provincial officials to make fighting the effects of the terrible weather conditions their number one priority.

After many years of fast development, how can we face such a miserable situation?
Comment on Chinese website

Over 300,000 paramilitary police, and almost 200,000 People's Liberation Army troops, have now been deployed in an effort to get the country moving again.

But for some, the government is not doing enough.

One comment on the popular website tianya.cn said: "Emergency plan? It's a joke!"

The posting continued: "The snow alone can destroy China. The government won't take care of you even if you are freezing."

'Helpless'

Another poster complained: "After many years of fast development, how can we face such a miserable situation? It's corruption that makes our infrastructure so vulnerable. The Chinese government should wake up."

Normally at this time of year, China's millions of factory workers journey back to their villages and families - instead they are taking shelter far from home, in the freezing cold.

Queues for bus in China
Passengers try to board a bus to Guangzhou railway station

Outside Hangzhou railway station, temporary shelters have been constructed.

Li Yulian, a migrant worker, is still hopeful of getting home.

"I feel helpless. There is nothing I can do with the weather like this. When I reach there, I hope I can find a bus to bring me home," she said.

Many workers, like Wei Haisheng, are growing frustrated.

"I cannot get a ticket and I am not able to go home. So I am feeling frustrated and my family back home is also getting worried about the situation," he said.

Even the considerable efforts of the Chinese state may not be enough to get them home; the country's weather service reports that for some central provinces, the worst is still to come.

In some areas, airports, roads and railway lines have begun to reopen, although many provinces are still experiencing power and food shortages.

But despite the promise of their prime minster, many hundreds of thousands are stranded in railway stations and will not make it home for China's most important national holiday.



SEE ALSO
In pictures: China's travel chaos
30 Jan 08 |  In Pictures
Transport chaos in snow-hit China
29 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Chinese freeze strands thousands
28 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Beijing bulletin
29 Jan 08 |  Olympics & Olympic sport
Country profile: China
30 Nov 07 |  Country profiles

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