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Dealing with disaster
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If the weather forecasts are accurate, the worst is yet to come for the central and southern areas of China.

The seasonal human migration tides have revealed the vulnerability of our public transport network. From across the country, the foremost concern at the moment is how to deal the crowds gathering at all major venues of public transit, be they railway stations, airports, or long-distance bus stations.

No matter how far they may drift away from traditional values, most of our compatriots remain sentimentally attached to the rich and highly symbolic lunar New Year's Eve dinner at home.

That the devastating snowfalls in the central and southern provinces have yet to dampen the fervent longing for a ticket home not only means extra hardship to get home, but will put more pressure on the fragile local passenger transport networks which have either be stretched to their extremes, or simply are in paralysis.

But this seems only the very beginning of a very vicious circle. In some areas of the most severely hit regions, like Guizhou and Hunan provinces, it has already affected local transport, power, and the supply of some essential goods.

Changsha, capital of the central Hunan province, has reported brownouts. In Wuhan, the Hubei capital, more than 100,000 households have reportedly lost access to running water.

The most unnerving news comes from Leishan, Guizhou province, which has virtually lost transport links with the outside. Local stocks of food and daily necessities have been in short supply for days.

A silver lining to all this remains beyond sight - the national meteorological authorities have warned of further snowstorms in the next few days in the disaster areas.

So we will have to prepare for a worst case scenario.

Emergency responses so far have been quick, sensible, and efficient. Information release, transient transport arrangements and corresponding mobilization work have all proceeded swiftly and orderly. This has worked effectively in preventing chaos and panic.

But the immediate next step will prove more challenging. With much of the transport web disrupted, it will be difficult to have relief materials delivered where they are most needed.

But that should be an overriding priority in the entire disaster relief program.

(China Daily January 30, 2008)

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