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Deadly blizzards cause continuing chaos across China

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Deadly blizzards cause continuing chaos across China


Aileen McCabe - Asia Correspondent , Canwest News Service

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SHANGHAI - China's raging winter storms turned deadlier still Tuesday, causing misery and chaos across great swathes of the country and forcing the central government to step up its efforts to keep millions of fraying tempers under control.

Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Changsha, capital of hard-hit Hunan Province, just as news broke that the death toll from the worst storms in 50 years had doubled.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that a bus plunged off an icy mountain road in southwestern Guizhou Province, killing 25 of 38 passengers. At least 24 prior deaths have been blamed on the storms that have held parts of China in their grip for two weeks.

Workers try to clear snow and fallen structures at a car dealership in Wuhan, 28 January 2008, in central China's Hubei province, following a heavy snowfall.Wen got a first-hand taste of the wild weather when his flight from Beijing was diverted to next-door Hubei Province and he was forced to finish his journey by train. Xinhua said he had come "to direct disaster relief work."

It's more likely, however, that the No. 2 Communist politician will leave that to the experts and concern himself with keeping the lid on this potentially explosive disaster that has so far cost the economy almost $3 billion.

Newspapers said the disaster, which comes at a time when China is anxious to show the outside world its infrastructure is up to the task of hosting the Olympic Games in August, had also exposed bureaucratic confusion and obfuscation.

More than half a million rail passengers were stranded in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, because of heavy snow blocking the track further north in Hunan.

"Police and armed police were deployed to keep order," Xinhua said after reports of scuffles at the railway station on Monday.

At least 15 airports have been closed at various times and more than 6,500 flights from many others were delayed, cancelled or diverted, prompting some angry scenes with passengers, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China said.

The storms have caused or exacerbated so many problems and affected so many people - the state papers estimate 77.9 million are suffering the brunt of the weather - that Beijing might easily be worried about maintaining its tight control on the population.

The upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, set to begin Feb. 6, has added significantly to the collective misery here. About 2.3 billion trips were planned during the holiday break, according to government estimates, and vast numbers of them were by poor migrant workers who only get home to see their children and families once a year. Many of them had started early to avoid the rush.

Adding to the misery is a coal shortage that has led to power rationing in 17 of China's 31 provinces, including blackouts. Coal, which provides about three quarters of China's electricity, was in short supply even before the storms, but now impassable highways and railway lines mean deliveries aren't getting to electricity-generating plants.

Food shipments are also at a standstill and prices are rising as a consequence, just at a time when everyone wants to stock up for the holidays.

China warned residents of Shanghai and neighbouring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, the country's commercial engine room, to stay indoors if possible. In Shanghai, some food shelves in shops emptied as people stocked up.

Analysts said the brutal weather was a short-term blow to the economy and would stoke inflation that already has the government worried. It hit an 11-year high of 4.8 per cent last year.

The Ministry of Finance said Tuesday it would offer 98 million yuan ($13.6 million) to people suffering from the bad weather in Anhui, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Guizhou provinces.

The insurance regulator also ordered all insurance firms on Tuesday to award compensation as quickly as possible.

The poor are suffering massively from the storms, as many do not have central heating, but worse still, the ramshackle houses they live in can't withstand the severe weather. Accumulating snow has caused the collapse of 107,000 homes so far, according to the China Daily.

Experts have long said that Beijing could have trouble on its hands if ever such a cocktail of disaster hits those who have been left far behind by China's spectacular economic rise.

Wen obviously hopes to prove them wrong, but unless Mother Nature starts co-operating soon - and the weather bureau isn't hopeful - he'll have his work cut out for him.

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China continues to suffer from snow

www.chinaview.cn 1-31-2008

BEIJING, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- East China's Anhui Province reported four more deaths from snow-related accidents on Wednesday. At least 55 people have died from the worst snow in decades around the country.

Nearly 11 million people in Anhui have been affected by the snow and eight have died, up from the previous count of four, by 11 a.m. on Wednesday, according to the provincial disaster relief office.

About 1.12 million people in 599 villages were facing power failure on Wednesday and 550,000 suffered from communication paralysis, the office added.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Hunan division of the State Grid said two electricians died while making repairs in the central Hunan Province.

Heavy snow had killed at least 38 people and affected 17 provinces, including Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan, by 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Provinces in central and northwestern China on Wednesday reported more losses from heavy snow, while southern provinces reported signs of recovery from the weather.

The heavy snow had affected 407,800 people in the central Henan Province between Jan. 11 to Jan. 29, costing an estimated 246 million yuan (34.2 million U.S. dollars), according to the provincial civil affairs department.

A total of 687 houses were collapsed by the snow and 204,200 hectares of crops were damaged. Authorities have so far evacuated 2,725 people from unsafe houses.

In northwestern Shaanxi Province, 756,500 people have been affected, including 1,200 who were ill or injured in snow-related accidents. In addition, 182,300 people faced a drinking water shortage.

More than 6,400 domestic animals and poultry died in the cold, while 340 houses collapsed. Shaanxi's losses from the snow stood at 187 million yuan, according to the provincial department of civil affairs.

In Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, about 300,000 people around the Taklamakan Desert, China's biggest, have been affected and 44,600 heads of livestock have died. The desert, with an annual precipitation of up to 100 millimeters, is currently covered in four centimeters of snow.

In Kashgar, the worst hit area in Xinjiang, more than 2,100 greenhouses collapsed under the weight of snow and ice. Many others were damaged, leading to price increases for vegetables. Xinjiang regional government has allocated 30.2 million yuan for disaster relief.

The snow, the heaviest in decades in many places, has been falling in China's east, central and southern regions for more than a fortnight. It has caused death, structural collapses, blackouts, highway closures and crop destruction.

The Baiyun Airport in Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong province, was able to send 35,000 passengers to their destinations. Service from Guangzhou to Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuhan and several other cities resumed, but 2,000 passengers were still stranded.

Another airport in Guangzhou -- Shenzhen -- was able to move 15,000 passengers to their destinations although more than 100,000were still stranded. Among the 337 flights scheduled by Shenzhen Airlines, 107 were delayed and 22 were canceled.

The southern part of the Beijing-Zhuhai expressway, a north-south trunk road, reopened to traffic headed north at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday after workers removed ice from the road surfaces, according to local highway companies. The southbound lanes were still being de-iced. About 20,000 people were trapped in vehicles backed up for kilometers along the Hunan section of the expressway as of Tuesday.

A section of expressway in northern Guangdong was still blocked by ice on Wednesday morning, stranding more than 1,000 vehicles. The expressway was re-opened to north-bound traffic on Wednesday afternoon. More than 70,000 passengers had been stranded there at the peak of the disruption. More than 115 ice-clearing machines had to be used to reopen the section.

Through Tuesday, the snow had affected 1.6 million people in Guangdong Province. The economic loss was estimated at 995 million yuan (about 138.2 million U.S. dollars). The local government has sent 357 million text messages about weather and transportation to the public.

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Feb. 1, 2008 ~~ GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - Millions of Chinese faced a humanitarian crisis on Friday, as petrol and food reserves dwindled and yet more bad weather was forecast for a country paralyzed by record-breaking cold and snow.

More than 160 counties and cities in central China were suffering blackouts and water shortages, Xinhua news agency said, including Chenzhou, in Hunan province, a city of 4 million that has been without power and water for more than a week.

"Many trees are severed and power lines have collapsed. It's like we have experienced an air raid or lost a battle," a Chenzhou hotel worker told Reuters by telephone. "It is a complete mess. We are hungry and cold."

Some 250,000 troops had been mobilized as of Friday to help with disaster relief and the army sent an armored personnel carrier to clear one ice-covered highway, Xinhua said, as millions geared up for a cold, dark Chinese New Year next week.

Stricken areas of south and central China are suffering the worst winter weather in half a century, with at least 60 people dying in weather-related accidents.

Premier Wen Jiabao again visited Hunan, with state television showing pictures of him telling provincial officials to do all they could to restore power and other services.

Miners are working overtime and coal has been given priority to speed through the rail network as Beijing fights the country's most serious power crisis ever.

"Ice on power cables is so thick that it is impossible for the power cables to carry their weight and power pylons have collapsed," Zhu Hongren, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told a news conference.

State television said Chenzhou's petrol reserves could only run for another seven days and its rice could feed residents for another five days.

Cooking oil and vegetables were also running out, with prices surging. Residents were relying on fire engines for rationed drinking water, it said.


In hard-hit Guizhou province, prices of petrol and candles have quadrupled with the country already facing its highest inflation in more than a decade.

The Ministry of Communications said trucks carrying farm goods would be exempt from highway tolls.

Zhu said the disaster had taken an economic toll, but added that "underlying fundamentals" were still sound.

"If we take a long-term view, such a disaster will be a temporary one, and therefore its impact on the economy will be short-term," he said.

But Hunan, Guizhou and Jiangxi were all facing fresh storms, and Zhu said the extreme weather could last another 10 days.

Some took to Internet bulletin boards to complain the government had ignored them, though frustration has so far not boiled over into large-scale unrest.

"We are almost totally cut off from the outside world, with no water and no power," Sanllyzhao wrote from Bijie in Guizhou.

"Please wake up Guizhou government!"

Nearly 6 million passengers have also been stranded on trains or in railway stations in the past week.

On Friday, the railways were creaking back into action and the key link between Beijing and Guangzhou had been restored. Numbers waiting in Guangzhou's station were down by half from a peak of 800,000, but that still left hundreds of thousands of travelers scrambling to board delayed trains.

For millions of China's migrant workers, next week's Lunar New Year holiday is their only chance to see family all year.

In Guangzhou, travelers needed luck as well as a ticket.

"It's not looking good," said Hu Lin, an environmental assessment official from Hubei province. "This is like if you prepare dinner for two and 200 people show up."

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In a realted Weather story from Asia:

Rare Tokyo snow strands 10,000 at Narita airport

Feb. 3, 2008

A rare snowfall in Tokyo left nearly 10,000 passengers stranded overnight at Narita airport after about 50 international flights were cancelled, the airport authority said Sunday.

The season's first snowfall in the greater Tokyo region measured 3.5 inches in the center of the capital on Saturday, the heaviest accumulation in eight years, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

At Narita airport, some 40 miles from downtown Tokyo, 51 international flights were cancelled as airport workers were unable to remove snow from runways quickly enough.

More than 90 other flights were delayed for a night, leaving passengers stuck in the terminal, an airport public relations official said.

"A total of 9,690 passengers were stranded overnight at the two terminals. We provided blankets and extended the time for air-conditioning and lighting to accommodate them at lobbies," the official said.

"We also opened special paid waiting lounges for free of charge."

At Tokyo's domestic Haneda airport, some 100 flights were cancelled on Saturday, disrupting the travel plans of some 14,000 passengers.

At least 125 people have suffered broken bones and other minor injuries in Tokyo after slipping in the rare snow by midday Sunday, fire officials said, while 200 others were reported hurt in nearby prefectures.

It usually snows lightly only a few times a year in the Tokyo region, located on the warmer Pacific side of Japan's main island.

Coastal regions have experienced Japan's deadliest winter in more than two decades, with at least 102 deaths recorded by Tuesday, with many of the victims crushed by snow or falling from buildings while clearing snow from roofs.

Most of the dead have been elderly people. The death toll is the highest since 1983-1984, when 131 people died in snow-related incidents.

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China weather crisis to continue

Feb. 5, 2008

Snow storms that have stranded millions of Chinese travellers are a "severe disaster" that will continue for several days, top leaders have warned.

Relief work was continuing to be a tough task, the Politburo said after a second emergency meeting on Sunday.

Troops are working to clear blocked roads and rail lines, allowing some stranded passengers to travel.

But more snow is expected and heavy fog has also hit central provinces, adding to transport woes.

On Monday, visibility was less than 100 metres (109 yards) in areas including Hunan and Hubei provinces, two of the areas worst hit by the snow, Xinhua news agency said.

'Tough task'

Severe snow storms have been affecting the region since early January, paralysing transport networks and leading to shortages of power, food and water in some areas.

Millions of people, many of them migrant workers, have been unable to return home for the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on 7 February.

Hundreds of thousands of passengers have spent days waiting at packed stations or trapped on blocked roads.

Residents of some central provinces, meanwhile, have been without power and water for days.

China's leaders have been working hard to convince people that they are tackling the situation and prevent frustration boiling over into unrest.

"We have to be clear minded that the inclement weather and severe disaster will continue to plague certain regions in the south," the Politburo said after Sunday's meeting, which was chaired by President Hu Jintao.

"Relief work will continue to face challenges, posing a tough task."

Dozens of people have died as a result of the weather. On Sunday four people died when a snow-covered roof collapsed in the city of Nanjing, Xinhua news agency said.

A woman was also killed in a stampede at Guangzhou station, which has seen the worst of the crowding.

About 1.3 million army troops and reservists have now been deployed to help the relief effort.

On Sunday, they cleared the blocked Hunan province section of the Beijing-Zhuhai highway.

Chen Erqun, a truck driver, had been stuck there for nine days.

"What I want most is to reach Guangdong and take a good bath and then go to sleep," he told Xinhua news agency.

Forecasters have warned of more snow over the next few days.

The extreme weather, now in its fourth week, has affected an estimated 100 million people, and caused £3.8billonn of damage.

Officials have warned of future food shortages because of damaged winter crops.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thousands stranded as snow returns to south China

Feb 17 (Reuters) - Almost 180,000 people have been stranded in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan by a return of snow and freezing weather which has blocked roads and caused blackouts, state media said on Sunday.

More than 8,700 miles of roads have been affected and 20,000 vehicles are stuck, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"The provincial transport department has organised a repair working force to ensure smooth road travel, especially the transport of important equipment and materials," Xinhua said.

"However, the repairs were greatly hampered by the plateau climate, poor facilities and shortage of money. The workers do not even have special anti-freeze or snow removing facilities," it added.

Like much of southern and southwestern China, Yunnan had slowly been recovering from unseasonably cold, snowy weather which brought transport to a near standstill ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday and left millions without power.

But snow returned to Yunnan on Thursday, Xinhua said.

The government is also struggling to bring the electricity grid back up in the eastern Yunnan city of Qujing.

China said earlier this week it aimed to complete repairs to power lines and restore normal power supply by the end of March.

Almost 90 percent of people who had experienced power cuts in large swathes of the country are now reconnected, with more than 14,000 damaged power lines repaired, Xinhua added.

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