Unremitting harsh weather across large parts of the nation has pushed up the human and economic toll as traffic snarls continued ahead of the major holiday.
Snowfall, the worst in five decades in many places, has affected 77.86 million people in 14 provinces in northern, central, eastern and southern China by 2 pm yesterday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
At least 24 people were killed in accidents over two weeks due to snow, sleet and freezing cold, it said, adding that direct economic losses have totaled 22.09 billion yuan ($3.06 billion).
The extreme weather has forced the evacuation of 827,000 people to safer places, damaged 4.22 million hectares of crops, toppled 107,000 houses and damaged 399,000 homes.
In hardest-hit Hunan, 29.15 million people have been affected, including 10 who died. The direct economic loss has exceeded 10.7 billion yuan ($1.48 billion), accounting for nearly half of the country's total.
Many highways, railways and airports were paralyzed, especially in the east.
The bad weather since Jan 12 has disrupted travel plans of tens of millions heading home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, starting on Feb 7 this year.
Passenger build-up in Guangzhou has been especially heavy because the southern end of the Beijing-Guangzhou rail line, a north-south trunk railroad, has been paralyzed because of heavy snow in Hunan where power transmission facilities have been knocked out.
Adding to the woes, seven of the eight highways connecting Guangdong and Hunan provinces have been cut off.
The number of passengers stranded in Guangzhou reached 500,000 yesterday, up from 150,000 on Sunday, Guangzhou Railways Company Group said.
Yesterday nearly 50,000 passengers were still stranded in the Hunan section of the Beijing-Zhuhai expressway.
Traffic on the Beijing-Guangzhou line will not return to normal for up to five days, the Ministry of Railways said.
It has already sent 78 diesel locomotives to pull stranded electric trains and sent more than 70 empty trains to pick up passengers.
By Sunday evening, 89 passenger trains with 100,000 passengers on board had bypassed the non-operational section, heading toward their destinations.
In Jiangsu, snowfall was the highest since 1961.
Twelve cities and counties saw more than 30 cm of snow by yesterday evening, with Nanjing experiencing the most - 45 cm.
Snow has also forced the closure of all expressways in Anhui. Most long-distance buses from Shanghai, Jiangsu and Anhui have stopped operations.
Yesterday, 11 airports in central and southern China were closed, according to the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) yesterday.
By 6 pm yesterday, most airports restarted operations, except those in Changsha, Changde and Huaihua, all in Hunan, the CAAC said.
To help relieve operations, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has sent working teams to Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou and Anhui provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
The National Meteorological Center issued an orange alert - the second highest on a scale of five - yesterday morning, saying snow and sleet would continue to sweep central and southern China for yesterday and today.
(China Daily January 29, 2008)