Changsha: China’s rail traffic was back on track Friday but massive passenger backlogs and more severe winter weather will prevent millions from going home for the annual holidays.
The country’s transport system had been effectively paralysed since last weekend due to the worst winter storms in half a century, but airports, train stations and bus depots began rumbling back to life on Thursday.
“Nationwide, 95% or more of the rail system has returned to normal and traffic is being expedited,” Wang Yongping, Railway Ministry spokesman, was quoted as saying by the Beijing Times.
However, millions of migrant workers still trying to get back for traditional Lunar New Year family gatherings faced either more waiting or the prospect of a holiday away from home.
The China Meteorological Administration said nine of the worst affected provinces in central, eastern and southern China faced further moderate to heavy snowstorms and freezing rain Friday.
Officials in Guangdong said 11.2 million workers in the southern province had given up hope of returning for next week’s holiday due to massive traffic snarls leading northward to other provinces, Xinhua news agency said.
The gridlock has led to tense scenes across the affected region as the backlog of desperate travellers has built up, forcing authorities to beef up security at airports and train and bus stations to keep order.
The government faces other headaches as well, including restoring food and energy supplies to large areas at a time when output typically falls due to the holidays.
Damage to crops has raised fears that it could further stoke already historically high inflation, a sensitive topic for the government due to its potential for triggering unrest.
“The impact of the snowfall on winter crop production is extremely serious. The impact on fresh vegetables in some central and eastern regions has been catastrophic,” Chen Xiwen, director of Agriculture Ministry department, was quoted as saying by the China Daily.
Officials have said 11 provinces have seen sharp spikes in vegetable prices, with costs doubling in some areas.
“The government should have prepared for such situations earlier,” Li Xiangxiang, 23, told AFP as she angrily picked over high-priced vegetables in a market in the Hunan provincial capital of Changsha.
“I think the government just wasn’t ready.”
President Hu Jintao visited a coal mine in northern Shanxi province late Thursday, urging miners to increase production to head off the country’s worst power crisis in memory.
“While giving priority to safety, we have to dig up and supply more coal in order to relieve supply shortages, protect normal economic activity and allow the people a happy Lunar New Year festival,” Hu urged the miners.
The transport chaos has strangled distribution of coal, source of three-fourths of China’s energy, causing blackouts in 17 provinces, according to reports.
The government said Thursday the nation’s stockpile of coal for power generation had dropped to a mere six-day supply.