The worst winter weather to hit central, eastern and southern China in decades could persist into the Year of the Rat, weather officials said.
Ice and frost cover road signs and shrubs beside the Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway in Shaoguan, South China's Guangdong Province, February 2, 2008. [Xinhua]
The severe weather, which has killed at least 60 Chinese and left millions of people facing a cold, dark Lunar New Year holiday, could last until February 9, according to the latest forecasts from the Central Meteorological Station on Saturday.
It said heavy snow would continue on Saturday in the province of Hunan and in Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Shanghai and Zhejiang to the east. A new round of snow is likely to fall on Monday and Tuesday.
In Zhejiang, a snowstorm that began in the early hours of Friday has lasted 30 hours, causing accumulations in many areas to reach record depths.
By midday on Saturday, snowfall had reached 31 centimeters in the provincial capital, Hangzhou. That broke the all-time record of 29 cm, according to the provincial meteorological station. Snow drifts in 11 other parts of the province also equaled or broke records, said the station's deputy chief, Pan Jinsong.
Nearly 300 urban parks out of 940 in Zhejiang were closed due to snow.
Thousands of troops, armed police, residents and volunteers began to clear snow on the main roads early on Saturday as forecasters warned of road ice early on Sunday.
Xiaoshan International Airport in Hangzhou has been closed since 5 pm Friday and 5,000 passengers were delayed. Snow on the runway measured an average of 20 cm on Saturday morning.
Warmer temperatures are also unlikely even after the snow begins to end around February 8, chief weatherman Yang Guiming warned.
"In many provinces, roads will remain icy, and it takes time to return to warm temperatures," he said. "When it gets warm and the ice and snow melt, we will have to watch out for road mishaps, floods and other problems."
The winter weather has hit 19 provinces and regions and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp, toppled 223,000 houses and damaged another 862,000, said the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Experts said the cold, snowy spell had displaced the 1998 Yangtze River flood as the largest natural disaster in decades. That flood affected 2.3 million people.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Friday the snow had caused 60 deaths as of January 31, but the toll was rising daily.
The roof of a vegetable wholesale market in Nanchang, in the eastern province of Jiangxi, collapsed early on Tuesday under the weight of snow and ice, killing one person and injuring 37.
On Friday, two patrolmen, Wang Guojie and Lin Shengqiao, died after their vehicle slid off an icy 30 meter cliff in Yongjia County in Zhejiang Province.
Shanghai posted a rare yellow snowstorm alert on Friday. By Saturday morning, it had received 15 cm of snow. In the suburban districts of Qingpu and Jiading, as well as Chongming County, the snow had reached 22 cm by noon.
The weather forced the Shanghai port at the mouth of the Yangtze River to close at 1 am on Saturday. The move stranded more than 1,000 ships and cancelled the departure of 200.
Ice on runways and aircraft almost closed Shanghai's two international airports on Saturday morning. By noon, only 15 of 127 scheduled departing flights had left Pudong Airport. Hongqiao Airport reported 16 landings and 41 take-offs out of 525 scheduled departures and arrivals.
Airport authorities said 13 domestic flights were canceled.
In Guangzhou, capital of Guangzhou Province, more than 160 flights scheduled to depart on Saturday from Baiyun Airport, were cancelled or delayed, affecting more than 12,000 passengers.
Many of the air passengers rushed to railway and bus stations hoping to get lucky. Mre than 78,000 passengers had taken trains or buses for the Spring Festival's family get-together.
To ease transport pressure, the local government called for migrant workers in Guangzhou not to return home and instead observe the Spring Festival in the province. So far, more than 2.2 million migrants have agreed to stay behind while another 4.1 million insisted on going home.
In Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, 25,000 motor vehicles were jammed along a 100-kilometer stretch of highway in Hezhou City.
"Traffic police are making full effort there to ensure safety of the thousands of passengers and drivers on the road," local transport officials said.
A week after a snow cut off power in central Hunan Province, traffic on the key Beijing-Guangzhou railway line had yet to return to normal. At least 240,000 passengers were still stranded at the Guangzhou Railway Station on Friday and 5,300 police -- a sixth of the city's force -- had been sent to maintain order.
In Hunan, where at least 20,000 electricians were working around the clock to repair the grid, the long blackout might soon end.
The State Grid of China said power could be partially restored on Saturday in Chenzhou, a city of 4 million that was one of the hardest-hit areas. About 5,000 utility workers were on duty there.
In Hengyang, a city of 1 million people about 100 km from Chenzhou, residents welcomed back electricity and water supplies on Friday.
Many households had run out of food and drinking water over the past week. Some had to fetch water from Xiangjiang River for drinking and flush toilets with snow water.
(Xinhua News Agency February 3, 2008)