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22 July 2024

Winter storm causes more chaos in China, with bus crashes, blackouts, train delays

By Agencies


China’s worst winter storms in five decades showed no signs of letting up, with cities blacked out and transportation paralyzed while a bus crash on an icy road killed dozens of people during the busiest travel season.

The extreme weather - blamed for 54 deaths in the past two weeks - walloped China as it hosted one of the world’s biggest annual mass movements of humanity: the Chinese New Year festival. Before the storms, railway officials estimated that a record 178.6 million people - more than the population of Russia - would travel by train for the holiday, which begins February 7.

But hundreds of thousands of those travelers spent another day shivering outside railroad stations Tuesday as they learned their trains were canceled. Most were migrant workers trying to leave booming southern Guangdong province - often called the world’s factory floor because it makes everything from Honda sedans to Apple iPods and Nike sneakers.

Those traveling by bus or car took big risks on the frozen roads in southern provinces, which have been suffering their heaviest snowfalls since the 1950s. Expressways were shut down in the nation’s financial capital, Shanghai, because snow and sleet made them a slushy treacherous mess.

In the worst accident since the blizzards began, a 35-seat bus slid off an icy mountain road and plunged 40 metres (yards) into a valley in Guizhou province Tuesday, killing 25 people, the State Administration of Work Safety said.

Another bus in northwestern Gansu province flipped over on icy roads, leaving four dead, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Several cities suffered blackouts as heavy snowfalls snapped power lines and hampered the delivery of coal, used to generate most of China’s electricity.

Huge red banners were hanging around the train station in Guangzhou, Guangdong’s provincial capital, urging migrant workers to scuttle their plans to return home, cash in their tickets and return to their factory dormitories. About 200,000 people took the advice and got ticket refunds, railway officials said, while about 200,000 lingered at the station in a bone-chilling drizzle.

Thousands stood under umbrellas that formed a huge canopy in the station’s plaza, while a larger crowd huddled beneath a highway overpass in front of the station hoping to catch a train. But the busy Beijing-Guangzhou line may not return to normal for three to five days, Xinhua said.

State broadcaster CCTV showed Premier Wen Jiabao telling stranded travelers at the Changsha train station in central Hunan province that trains would start again soon.

“Let me express my apologies for you all having been stuck here,” Wen said through a megaphone to a huddled crowd that cheered.

But the nation’s top leader, President Hu Jintao, warned of more bad weather and urged officials “be aware of the seriousness of the situation and be fully prepared to prevent and fight disasters.”

So far, the central government has given a total $17 million in aid to six provinces and one region battered by the winter weather, Xinhua said.

In China, the New Year holiday is as important as Christmas is in the West. For most migrant workers, it’s the only time of the year when they can visit their hometowns. They often take a month off to feast with their families and perform a series of rituals. (AP)