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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 15:50 GMT
Snow-hit China welcomes New Year
Performers prepare for a traditional New Year dance in Beijing
New Year celebrations will not be the same for the millions of stranded
China is celebrating Lunar New Year, a festival which has been overshadowed by the worst snowstorms in decades.

Across the country, people gathered and set off fireworks to welcome the Year of the Rat.

But millions of migrant workers are spending the holiday season away from their families because of gridlocked transport networks.

Power lines downed by the snow are being repaired, but millions of people remain without electricity and water.

Officials in south-western Guizhou province have said it could take nearly five months to fully mend the power grid.

On Wednesday, which was New Year's Eve, top leaders visited some of the areas hardest hit by the severe weather in an attempt to boost morale.

A woman prays at a village in Pingshi, Guangdong province, on 5 February 2008
Parts of China have seen the heaviest snow in 50 years

President Hu Jintao visited Guangxi in the south, while Premier Wen Jiabao met residents in Jiangxi province's Fuzhou City, where power has been out for 20 days.

"We lost much in the weather disaster... but we also got many things, such as courage, will and the ability to overcome difficulties," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Mr Wen as saying.

"Amid the disaster, relations between officials and the masses strengthened and people became more united," he said.

Break in weather

Snow has been falling across central and southern regions since early January, destroying houses and crop land, downing power lines and blocking road and rail links.

Trucks carry coal to provinces hit by power failures on 4 February 2008

The bad weather has now let up, with China's Meteorological Administration on Wednesday lifting a severe weather alert issued on 25 January.

But the break in the weather came too late for millions of migrant workers who were unable to return home to their families for the festive season.

In the run-up to the holiday, enormous crowds built up at railway stations as trains ground to a halt, while several key highways were also blocked.

Transport is now returning to normal but millions of people had to abandon plans to travel.

BBC China editor Shirong Chen says the Chinese New Year holiday is the only chance many migrant workers get in the whole year to visit family, including elderly parents and young children left behind.

Power problems were being tackled, with electricity restored in 162 of 170 worst-hit counties, Xinhua said.

But problems remain in many areas including Chenzhou in Hunan province, where about half of the four million residents remain without electricity after nearly two weeks.

More than 3,000 troops and engineers were working to repair 1,000 pylons toppled by the snow, Xinhua said, while the air force transported 100 tonnes of candles to several cities in the south where people were still suffering from black-outs.

The weather is believed to have affected more than 100 million people and has so far caused 80bn yuan ($11bn) of damage.

More than 80 people are thought to have been killed, while experts have warned that damage to crops could lead to future food shortages.

A Beijing resident on the New Year celebrations

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