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China works to limit snow-related chaos
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Chinese authorities have spared no effort in combating snow-inflicted woes and reducing the negative impact to the least extent as volatile weather continued to rage in a dozen Chinese regions on Monday.

Dealing with traffic havoc

The Chinese Ministry of Railways mobilized 35 extra trains on Sunday night to help disperse about 500,000 passengers who were stranded in Guangzhou, capital of the southern Guangdong Province, because of snow, the Guangzhou Railways Company Group said.

Millions of travelers are currently struggling to make their annual trip home as the Spring Festival, the most important Chinese holiday, is only nine days away.

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 the central Hunan Province 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.

Prior to Sunday night the Ministry of Railways had already dispatched 25 trains to Guangzhou to transport passengers by circumventing the Beijing-Guangzhou railway.

Guangzhou has set up simple facilities in a few venues such as big stadiums and conference and exhibition centers, to provide temporary shelter for stranded passengers.

"About 60,000 passengers have been relocated to these venues, and it is estimated 200,000 people will need to be accommodated when more passengers arrive in Guangzhou to take trains back home, " said Yu Desheng, a local transportation official.

Meanwhile, free bus services were provided to take migrant workers back to their work sites if they choose not to travel home for the holiday.

Guangzhou stopped selling railway tickets and announced that tickets previously purchased could be returned without a service charge. However, most passengers have been reluctant to return their tickets, hoping that railway operations would resume soon.

Traffic on the Beijing-Guangzhou line likely won't be normalized within the next three to five days as snow is persisting in central China, Guangdong railway authorities said.

China's eastern business hub Shanghai also halted rail ticket sales on Monday, after 58 trains serving the municipality were delayed during a 12-hour period, stranding about 30,000 passengers.

Trains from Shanghai to the southwestern Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces were cancelled. The Shanghai railway bureau earmarked 4 million yuan (551,700 U.S. dollars) for passengers who were returning tickets.

The disruptions also affected Beijing and Wuhan. In Wuhan, a city in the central section of the artery, more than 10 trains made re-routed trips via the rail line linking Beijing and Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong, to reach Guangdong.

Airports in at least 10 cities, such as Wuhan, Nanjing, Guiyang and Changzhou, were closed temporarily on Monday.

At Shanghai Pudong International Airport, 96 international flights were canceled or delayed on Sunday and Monday. The authorities reminded passengers to check flight information before heading to the airport.

Huanghua Airport in Changsha, Hunan's capital, has been closed for four consecutive days and more than 10,000 stranded passengers have been temporarily accommodated in nearby hotels.

According to Chen Huiyi, a member of the airport staff, about 100 passengers have insisted on staying at the airport itself and they have been given water and bedding.

Ice-clearing vehicles sent from eastern Shandong Province were being used to clear the airport. "We will try our best to get passengers to their destinations as soon as possible," Chen said.

About 11,000 vehicles were piled up on the highways in eastern Anhui Province, where half of the state and provincial highways were crippled by the snow. More than 8,000 traffic police were dispatched to keep order on the 40-kilometer congested section.

Maintaining social order

The snow, the heaviest in a decade in many places, has been falling in east, central and south China since Jan. 12, causing deaths, structural collapses, power blackouts, highway closures and crop destruction.

Hunan Province and the western Guizhou Province have been the worst hit by the unprecedented spell of severe weather.

The Public Security Bureau of Hunan has sent daily text warnings to the province's more than 1 million drivers and information on road conditions was being broadcast around the clock.

In Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu Province, the accumulated snow reached a record 36 centimeters. About 250,000 people went out to clear the snow on Monday, answering a government call made on Sunday.

In the industrial city of Wuhan, in central China, 56 energy-intensive enterprises were required to cut power consumption. It is expected that 240,000 kw of electricity would be saved in that way to meet the power demand of 120,000 households. Further power control measures could be imposed if necessary.

In Shanghai, extra buses were sent to major traffic hubs to deal with a surge of passengers as more people left their cars at home. Anti-skid devices were installed on buses in Nanjing.

In Changsha, Wuhan and other hard-hit cities, vegetable prices have more than doubled. To help keep prices down, the Wuhan government has ordered all highways and expressways not to charge tolls to trucks carrying vegetables to the city.

Eastern Jiangsu Province has seen 1,597 houses collapse due to the snow and 4,370 others have been damaged.

In the agricultural province of Jiangxi, where 13 people have died in snow-related accidents, 220,000 were forced to evacuate and 8.18 million were affected in one way or another. About 2,700 houses were toppled and 56,400 hectares of crops were ruined by the snow.

The local government has allocated 8 million yuan to the 38 hardest-hit counties, cities and districts to ensure that residents have enough food, clean water, warm clothes, safe housing and timely medical care ahead of the Spring Festival.

Highest alert for more snow

The China Meteorological Administration (CMA) issued a red alert early on Monday for severe snowstorms in the central and eastern parts of the country.

According to the forecast, heavy snow is set to blanket northern Hunan, eastern Hubei, southeastern Henan and northwestern Zhejiang, as well as most areas of Anhui and Jiangsu provinces on Monday.

In addition, freezing rain will pound some parts of Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Anhui and Zhejiang.

The CMA warned local governments and departments to prepare for the coming bad weather. Transport, railway, electricity and communication departments were advised to prepare post-snow clean-ups, while suggesting citizens in these areas should avoid unnecessary outdoor activities.

(Xinhua News Agency January 29, 2008)

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