Icy highways stranded tens of thousands of travelers on Friday as snow and unusually cold temperatures continued to grip large parts of the country.
The snowy and cold weather, the worst in a decade in many places, has also left homes collapsed, power blackouts and crops destroyed.
Millions of people were without heat and hot water, as thick ice brought down power lines and transport disruptions aggravated chronic wintertime shortfalls of coal, which produces three-quarters of the country's electricity.
In Guizhou Province, 28 highways and expressways were closed because of ice, leaving 27,000 travelers stuck in bus stations in Tongren and Zunyi, according to the provincial transport department.
From Thursday evening to next Wednesday, snow and rain will be seen in most areas in Guizhou, said Tang Zhuqiang, deputy director of the provincial meteorology bureau, on Thursday.
Seventeen cities and towns in eastern Guizhou witnessed their longest-ever low temperature period.
The snow also put great pressure on power supplies in the province, with around one third of mobile transmission stations forced to shut down.
Thousands of people were stranded in the neighboring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, while most highways in neighboring Hunan Province were closed.
In Changsha, Hunan's capital, electricity for heating equipment in hotels and entertainment venues has been cut off, according to Dai Qinghua, a chief engineer of Hunan Power Company.
Dai said more than 8,000 workers were struggling to ensure power supplies.
More than 32.9 million people have been affected in 10 provinces. Total damage from the prolonged cold temperatures and snow is estimated so far at 6.23 billion yuan ($864 million), Xinhua reported.
The Ministry of Communications said that the number of people traveling by road is expected to increase 5 percent to 2.1 billion during the Spring Festival holiday season, which lasts about 40 days until March 2.
Millions of people head home from cities for the Lunar New Year, the biggest holiday for family gatherings, which this year falls on February 7.
The ministry on Friday ordered ports to temporarily stop loading coal for export as the country struggles to meet domestic needs amid the mounting power shortages.
The shortages were expected to continue, with weather forecasters warning on Friday that heavy snow could sweep swathes of the country in coming days.
The harsh weather could roll from west to east over the next three days, the China Meteorological Administration said on its website (www.cma.gov.cn), forecasting heavy snow, sleet and rain.
Snow storms could hit parts of the heavily agricultural heartland provinces of Henan and Hubei, and Anhui Province to the east.
Temperatures in northern parts of Shaanxi Province could drop to minus 30 C, the lowest in 50 years.
(Xinhua News Agency January 26, 2008)