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North China scrambles to power snow-ravaged south
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Concerted efforts are being made in north China to increase coal supply and bring back power to the country's south where the worst snow in half a century has snarled transport and paralyzed cities.

Coal producers in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region have been told to postpone holiday-taking for next week's Spring Festival so as to ensure supply used for generating electricity.

The region produced 32 million tons of coal last month, four million tons more than the pre-set plan. It also produced an additional six million tons to supply the country's southern regions over the past month, according to Wang Wangwang, chief of the region's Coal Industry Bureau.

Bulk cargo transport service providers in Inner Mongolia now only offer service to coal and other products vital to people's daily life, such as cereals and edible oils, meat, eggs, milk, chemical fertilizers and processed oil.

Yang Xiaoling, a regional economic commission senior official, said Inner Mongolia has increased its daily coal supply to outside customers to 573,000 tons in the last couple of days. By Thursday, the region had sent 3.7 million tons of coal to southern China in January.

The coal industry authority in Shanxi Province, the country's largest producer, issued a circular asking all major coal mines to scrap or shorten Spring Festival holidays to increase supply.

In response, Tongmei Company Group based in Datong, Shanxi, decided to shorten its Spring Festival holiday to a single day. Coal production won't be interrupted because of the festival, said a corporate executive.

Since Jan. 25, Taiyuan Railways Administration of Shanxi said its coal-loading tasks had gone up 30 percent than in normal days. Each day, they are delivering an additional 200,000 tons of coal for power-generating.

Hebei Province is home to three three ports -- Qinhuangdao port, Jingtang port of Tangshan and Huanghua port of Cangzhou -- that are responsible for undertaking 60 percent of the south China-destined coal transport via the water.

An official from the maritime affairs bureau of Hebei Province said the three ports were visited by an increased number of coal ships over the past three days.

"On Thursday, we announced a 12-point emergency plan to reduce the loading and waiting time to the least for vessels coming for coal," the official said.

Continuous snows and freezing rains in the southern regions such as Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Guizhou, Guangdong and Jiangsu since mid-January have led to widespread failure of power, frozen tap water, highway closure and crop damage.

The central province of Hunan and the western land-locked Guizhou Province have been the worst hit by the weather. Sections of the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway, a north-south trunk line, and the Beijing-Zhuhai freeway were cut off for days.

Many people who meant to travel via those rail lines or roads were stranded at rail stations, on freeways or at airports because of a lack of electricity or ice removal equipment.

In addition, coal-fired power producers have been running short of reserve. In Guizhou, for instance, there are 17 thermal power plants with a combined installed capacity of 15 million kilowatts. However, only nine of the plants, or one quarter of the installed capacity, could maintain electricity production as of 11 a.m. on Thursday.

Chinese President Hu Jintao inspected coal-rich Datong city in Shanxi Province and Qinhuangdao port in Hebei Thursday, as a sign of the government's determination to resume power supply as soon as possible.

Hu ventured into a coal mine more than 400 meters underground, taking an elevator to meet the miners of the Datangtashan mine co-op in Datong who had worked overtime in temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius to increase supply, asking them to produce more coal.

He also visited Hudong station on a special railway linking mines in Datong to Qinhuangdao port.

At Qinhuangdao port, he told dock workers to keep all equipment in good condition and improve their efficiency to ensure coal supply for power plants in the south.

(Xinhua News Agency February 1, 2008)

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