The 2,500-year-old Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, listed among China's 100 top historical sites, has been playing a modern role as a lifeline for fuel and other necessities for eastern Jiangsu Province, which is still being affected by fog and ice.
Visibility was less than 100 meters in parts of the province on Tuesday, according to the China Meteorological Administration. Expressways in the province have been closed and re-opened repeatedly over the past half month, due to the unusually severe freezing weather.
Sources with the provincial transportation department said that more than 90 percent of the coal needed for power generation in the province had been shipped through the canal from northern coal-rich regions, as road and railway transport systems were still recovering.
"The canal is working at maximum capacity, with the current navigating traffic three times heavier than the normally allowed handling volume," said an official with the department. "Among 230,000 tons of coal consumed by thermal power plants in Jiangsu every day, 219,000 tons were shipped via the canal."
The local maritime affairs authorities sent three icebreakers to clear up the waterway, which was iced over in many sections. It also conducted round-the-clock patrols to ensure that none of the canal facilities were damaged.
Linking Beijing in the north with the southern terminus of Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern Zhejiang Province, the 1,794-kilometer Grand Canal has 1,000 navigable km with four major ports, each of which handles more than 30 million tons of freight annually. The rest of the canal has dried up or stagnated.
The canal is the longest, oldest man-made waterway in China. It dates back to the 5th century BC and has served as a major north-south artery after being completed in the 13th century.
(Xinhua News Agency February 5, 2008)