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18 July 2024

China battles winter weather chaos

By Agencies
China struggled on Sunday with transport havoc and threats to energy and food supplies caused by snows and freezing cold, with forecasters warning of more harsh weather across eastern and central areas in coming days.

The cold snap has struck central, eastern and southern China in recent days, bringing snow, ice and sleet to provinces used to milder winter weather. Dozens of people have died.

The trail of destruction and disruption prompted Premier Wen Jiabao to assure citizens that the government has mobilised resources.

After visiting waiting train passengers in Beijing and delayed truck drivers on a nearby highway, Wen ordered officials to redouble efforts to cope with tens of millions of people surging home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which begins February 7.

Wen also announced a "green express channel" to waive some transport charges on fresh farm produce.

"This measure will help reduce transport costs and stabilise holiday-time prices," he said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

"We've got to take comprehensive measures to solve problems with tight power supplies and coal storage for power generation," he added.

The snow and ice have collapsed homes, snapped power lines and destroyed crops, causing the deaths of dozens in weather-related accidents.

Mountainous Guizhou province in the southwest has in past days suffered three deaths, 877 collapsed buildings and widespread blackouts, Xinhua reported.

In Hunan province in the south, accidents sparked by icy rains and cold have killed five people, and in neighbouring Hubei province seven died.

The national forecasting authority said the freezing weather would continue to pummel provinces from west to east in coming days, with heavy snows possible in Shanghai and neighbouring provinces -- powerhouses of business and manufacturing.

Dozens of highways could be cut, the forecasters warned.

On Sunday, Chinese television news showed railway stations choked with tens of thousands of delayed passengers.

In Guangzhou in the far south, more than 100,000 people crammed the main railway station, many of them rural migrant workers eager to return home for the traditional Lunar New Year holiday.

On Saturday, police closed roads around the station and pulled passengers from the dangerous crush of people inside, the Guangzhou Daily reported.

"Safety is always the top priority," Premier Wen said. "Let the people enjoy a happy and auspicious Lunar New Year".

On Sunday afternoon, officials will discuss steps seeking to protect supplies of coal, oil and electricity, the government Web site (www.gov.cn) said.  (Reuters)