China is no stranger to natural disasters, but the heavy snow
that strangled much of the country over the past three weeks could
be one of the most memorable because of its scope, duration and
impact. Millions, perhaps tens of millions have been suddenly
thrown back to an era without most modern conveniences and economic
losses stand at about 53.8 billion yuan (7.5 billion U.S.
More than 160 counties and cities in central China have had
blackouts and water shortages. Chenzhou, a city of 4 million in
Hunan Province, has been without power and water for a week. Even
the radio has fallen silent.
"Radio and telecom services stopped. I feel like it is the end
of the world," said a taxi driver surnamed Lu. He said it had been
very difficult to fill the tank of his vehicle because many gas
stations without power generators were forced to close.
The worst snow in five decades has so far killed 60 people and
forced nearly 1.76 million people to relocate. Nineteen provincial
regions and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp. have
reported losses from the crisis, which toppled down 223,000 houses
and damaged another 862,000, said Zou Ming, an official with the
Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou, Guangxi, Jiangxi and Anhui were the worst
hit regions. The central government has allocated 331 million yuan
to fund local disaster relief work, he said.
"The snow has taken a toll on the Chinese economy," said Zhu
Hongren, deputy director of the Bureau of Economic Operations with
the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
Most parts of China remained very short of electricity amid
severe coal shipment disruptions and physical damage to the grid
caused by the prolonged snow, rain and cold weather.
As of Jan. 28, the country had experienced a power gap peaking
at nearly 40 million kilowatts as a coal shortage cut power
generation at some plants, according to the State Electricity
Regulatory Commission (SERC).
The State Council, or the cabinet, has established a command
center to coordinate contingency measures for coal, oil and power
supply, transportation and disaster relief in snow-hit areas, said
the NDRC's Zhu.
On Friday, the Ministry of Railways started a 10-day emergency
coal shipping campaign, vowing to ensure a daily thermal coal
delivery of more than 40,000 cars during the campaign, said Zhao
Chunlei, a railway ministry official in charge of train
"Coal stockpiles are stable and increasing, with small margins.
But the reserves at major power plants are still below the level of
last October," said Zhu Hongren.
The deputy director said that some areas could experience
"continued shortages" because of transport disruptions and he added
that the top priority was to "ensure the stability of prices".
Cole and other vegetables, oranges and wheat, in particular,
suffered severely from the snow, according to the Ministry of
The public has started to feel the pressure of short supplies as
vegetable prices escalated across the country.
In Changsha, Wuhan and other hard-hit cities in the southern,
central and eastern regions, vegetable prices have more than
doubled. Areas not directly affected by the snow, such as Beijing
and the southern Guangdong Province, have also seen price
Passenger transport has also been seriously disrupted as an
estimated 2.2 billion intercity movements are planned by Chinese
heading home for the Spring Festival. Some travelers use a
combination of methods to make each leg of their journey,
accounting for the large figure.
From Jan. 25 to 31, a total of 5.8 million passengers were
stranded throughout the railway system and more than 8,000 cargo
trains were affected, said Zhao of the railways ministry.
Civil aviation authorities said on Thursday that more than 3,250
flights had been cancelled during the six days through noon on
Bad weather also forced 380 planes to be diverted and delayed
5,550 flights, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of
China (CAAC) said. However, airlines still carried 3.17 million
passengers from the nation's 52 major airports between Jan. 23 and
29, up 11.8 percent from a year earlier, by flying larger
(Xinhua News Agency February 2, 2008)