Traffic is slowly getting better in southern Chinese provinces hit by the worst winter weather in five decades. Thousands of passengers, however, are still trapped on icy highways, the Ministry of Public Security said on Wednesday.
"The situation is improving based on information sent from the provinces," said ministry spokesman Wu Heping at a press conference here. "One of the key tasks now is to reopen the expressway linking Beijing with Zhuhai City in the southern Guangdong Province."
The north-south trunk road remained blocked at several sections.
A 116-kilometer section of the expressway in the central Hunan Province are still frozen and vehicles are moving at a speed of five km an hour, Wu said.
"So far, about 6,400 vehicles with more than 10,000 passengers are still on the road," he said.
The whole of Hunan has been gearing up to restore traffic. More than 100,000 soldiers and armed policemen, 20,000 government officials, 7,000 police, 2,400 transport officials and 40,000 citizens are working to de-ice the expressway.
"We have to prepare for tougher situations as the weather forecast says it will continue raining and snowing for the next seven days in Hunan," Wu said.
The section in Hubei Province to the north of Hunan has witnessed about 5,000 vehicles moving slowly over a distance of 25 km.
Meanwhile, the expressway in Guangdong south to Hunan has about a 20-km stretch of frozen surface. Vehicles heading south on the expressway have begun moving forward at a snail's pace while the lanes heading north remain closed. They are expected to reopen on Wednesday.
Along the highway linking the eastern Anhui Province with the neighboring Zhejiang Province, about 6,000 vehicles are still trapped with more than 20,000 people, Wu said.
In the eastern Jiangxi Province, about 8,000 vehicles and 20,000 people are stranded along the highway linking its two major cities, Nanchang and Jiujiang.
Almost all expressways through the southwestern Guizhou Province have been closed since Tuesday.
Traffic in the southwest Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has been totally restored, Wu said. About 992,000 officers are directing traffic nationwide, he said.
Several key rail lines saw delays or closures. The Beijing-Guangzhou rail line was most affected, with 62 trains stranded, according to the ministry.
The airport in Changsha, Hunan's provincial capital, closed again on Wednesday morning.
Unusual freezing weather, heavy snow, sleet and ice rain have hit 17 provinces in China during the past week and disrupted the plans of millions of people on their way home to celebrate the Spring Festival.
The Ministry of Railways predicted that the railways would carry an unprecedented 178.6 million passengers during the travel peak from Jan. 23 to March 2, up from 156 million last year.
The winter storm had claimed 38 lives by Wednesday, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
(Xinhua News Agency January 31, 2008)