Freak Blizzards Leave 200,000 Stranded in China

William Foreman in Guangzhou, China
Associated Press
January 28, 2008

Police and soldiers attempted to control hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded at a major train station in southern China on Monday by blizzards and ice storms that have created a transportation crisis during the nation's busiest travel time of the year.

Forecasters warned that new snowstorms and freezing rain could soon hit central and eastern China, putting more pressure on already strained transportation, communications, and power infrastructure.

The freakish weather has already affected 67 million people, and the total economic loss was U.S. $2.5 billion, the Civil Affairs Ministry said.

In the southern city of Guangzhou in booming Guangdong province (see map), officials estimated that 200,000 stranded travelers—mostly migrant factory workers—filled the huge plaza in front of the city's main train station.

Travelers spilled out into a busy road that had to be closed to give them space to camp out while they waited for trains.

Radio announcements said most trains had been canceled and tickets were no longer being sold until February 7, the start of the Chinese New Year, the nation's biggest annual holiday.

Weeks of Havoc, Dozens of Deaths

The weather began wreaking havoc two weeks ago when sleet and snow storms began snapping power lines for trains in neighboring Hunan province, a midpoint for the busy rail line that runs from Guangzhou to Beijing.

The ice storms also closed highways, and 24 deaths have been reported since January 10, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The government pledged Monday to increase the output of gasoline, coal, and power to ease shortages amid the severe winter weather, which has forced rationing in some areas, Xinhua said.

The announcement came as coal prices hit a record high Monday and heavy snows blocked deliveries to power plants.

The severe winter has compounded chronic power shortages faced by China as demand from factories and households soars amid economic growth that hit a 13-year high of 11.2 percent in 2007.

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