Local governments in south China have exempted passage fees on a detour route to the Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway, the country's key north-south trunk road, whose southern sections have been blocked by ice leaving thousands stranded.
The Hunan Province government is also paying 200 yuan (28 U.S. dollars) as an oil subsidy for drivers who takes the roundabout route -- the Hengzao Expressway from Hunan via Guangxi to Guangdong -- instead of the direct-but-paralyzed Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway.
More than 3,000 vehicles had taken the alternate route by Wednesday afternoon, partly easing the burden on the trunk road's section in Hunan where 37,000 people and 12,000 vehicles have been stranded for days in the chilly weather.
Officials with the Hunan Department of Communications said it would take at least a couple of days to finally free-up the passenger build-up in the section.
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.
Unusual cold, heavy snow, sleet and icy rain have combined to hit 14 provinces and regions in central and southern China in the past two weeks.
More than 77.8 million people had been affected by Monday afternoon. The Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Wednesday that 38 had been killed by collapsed roofs, slips and drowning since Jan. 10.
Dozens of others had died in snow-related traffic accidents, according to reports from various provinces.
(Xinhua News Agency January 31, 2008)