The Chinese army has deployed its tanks to clear the snow-hit highways in Anhui Province.
Two tanks started their mission to de-ice the congested, 110-km Hefei-Anqing and Hefei-Wuhu highways on Thursday and took more than 30 hours - 12 times the two-and-a-half hours needed to cover the distance in normal situations - before completing their work yesterday, military staff said yesterday.
Traffic on the highways have ground to a halt from the heavy snow in the past week, with thousands of vehicles traveling for the Spring Festival holiday stranded.
Other military vehicles such as field kitchens and armored cars are also helping out with the de-icing and involved in rescue missions for stricken travelers, officials said.
Armored cars have been de-icing affected sections of the Beijing-Zhuhai route, a south-north trunk road that has been repeatedly hit by the severe weather.
More than 100 aircraft have been put on standby, the air force added.
On Saturday, the air force sent three aircraft to help distribute relief supplies from Guangdong to Hunan Province, one of the most badly hit areas.
Two aircraft also flew to Guizhou Province, carrying 5.5 tons of much-needed supplies including food, medicine and blankets.
In areas where armored vehicles have not been able to access, soldiers have reportedly resorted to shoveling snow off the roads.
"Now we have opened up at least one throughway for vehicles in both directions (at the Shaoguan section of the north-south arterial highway in Guangdong)," Yang Zexin, an officer in charge of publicity with a division of the Military District of Guangzhou of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), told China Daily via phone yesterday.
"The cars are currently moving slowly, at speeds of not more than 50 kph," Yang said.
The 2,310-km long highway that links the capital to Zhuhai in Guangdong gradually closed off late last month, when the cold weather disrupted traffic.
Latest updates from transportation departments said traffic has been running smoothly on the highways in Hebei and Henan Province.
But roads in the mountainous regions of Hunan and Guangdong, packed with wagons and carts, remained congested, officials said.
Temperatures in the regions stayed at about -7 to -8 C at night and hitting no higher than 1 C during the day with light snow continuing to fall yesterday, Yang said.
"Our troops went to bed at about 1 am today and got up at 5 am to continue work on the roads," Yang said.
Troops have also been tasked to fix vehicles, distribute hot food and provide medical aid to the stranded, as well as help police alleviate traffic congestion, officials said.
The PLA has deployed more than 300,000 soldiers to combat the worst winter storm to hit the country in five decades.
About 1.07 million militia and army reservists are also involved in the relief efforts.
(Xinhua News Agency February 4, 2008)