Guanghou: Heavy fog descended Monday on large parts of southern China, complicating the task of helping millions of workers stranded by winter weather that in some areas is the worst in 100 years.
The fog reduced visibility to less than 100 metres (yards) in key provinces, as meteorologists warned a new wave of snow, rain and sleet likely would hit in the next two days, Xinhua news agency said.
Stampedes, long queues and growing anxiety
At Guangzhou railway station in the south, where one woman was trampled to death in a stampede over the weekend, tens of thousands of people were desperately trying to get a train out before Thursday’s Lunar New Year holiday.
“It’s very dangerous here because there are too many people around,” said Zhou Xiaoyang, a migrant worker standing outside the station with his wife and eight-month-old son.
“Even if you don’t push people, they push you. But I have no choice, I have to go home to see my family,” he said.
The blizzards and icy temperatures that have lasted nearly three weeks have stranded millions of people at airports, train stations and bus depots in south, central and eastern China.
For many, Lunar New Year is their only chance to escape to their families after toiling in the factories, but the crippling weather has led to a massive backlog of travellers in places like Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province which has China’s biggest concentration of migrant workers.
In Guangzhou, some 92,000 were still waiting late Sunday for a much-coveted train seat, according to official data reported by Xinhua.
Thousands of police were mobilized and deployed at the train station, some lined up several layers deep at barricades, to prevent any repeat of the weekend’s deadly stampede.
“For your own and others’ safety, all travellers should remain calm,” said the message blared out incessantly via loudspeaker. “Don’t be anxious, don’t push, don’t run. Follow the police officers’ orders to queue up quickly.”
A key expressway linking Beijing to the southern city of Zhuhai near Macau was fully reopened for traffic early Monday, Xinhua reported.
The drivers of the last 6,000 vehicles, some of whom had been stuck in the snow and ice for nine days, were rescued by soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police, according to the agency.
Soldiers used picks and shovels to remove the ice that had made driving on the roads dangerous. The PLA even deployed a few tanks to crack the ice in certain areas, the report said.
However, a total of 17,000 vehicles remained stranded on nine different sections of expressway around China, it said.
“We need to remind some people ... to continue to be on alert because there is still a lot of snow in some parts of China,” Zheng Guoguang, the head of the China Meteorological Administration (CMA), told a briefing in Beijing.
“The temperatures there are still low, so the melting of both snow and ice will be quite slow,” he said.
Cold has compounded the crisis further
The weather has destroyed crops, hit industrial production, disrupted coal and food supplies and led to power blackouts, at an estimated cost at around 7.5 billion dollars, according to official figures.
State media quoted senior economists as saying the economic impact may not be as great as feared, with the crisis likely to spur investment on upgrading the power grid or improving the way coal is transported.
At least 105 million out of the country’s 1.3 billion people have been affected and more than 60 have been killed, the government says.
Reports of more fatalities keep coming in. In the eastern city of Nanjing, four people were killed and 16 injured Sunday when the snow-laden ceiling of a petrol station suddenly collapsed, Xinhua said.
Some parts of China like central Hubei and Hunan provinces have seen their worst winter weather in a century, a CMA official told AFP.
As for the future, experts were unwilling to make predictions too far in advance. “It is impossible for us to look too far ahead into the future, but we can forecast or warn three days in advance,” CMA spokeswoman Jiao Meiyan told reporters in Beijing.