Wednesday, January 30, 2008

China - more deaths as weather worsens

Trains, planes and automobiles have all been affected by heavy snow

The worst winter storm to hit China in 50 years has killed at least 50 people and more than 78 million have been affected. CCTV-9 reported only 38 killed by the bad weather, but other news reports put the death toll as high as 50. Yesterday 25 were killed when a bus plunged off an icy road near Guizhou. Premier Wen Jiabao has visited Guangzhou in Guangdong province where thousands of migrant workers, desperate to get home for the spring festival, have been stranded for several days. “I’m here to see you”, he said, “everyday more rail lines are opening and we are doing everything we can to get everyone home for the New Year celebrations”. He told reporters it was a priority to get the stranded passengers moving [Xinhua News]. He also visited power stations to see what was being done to restore power to vast regions cut off for several days. Half of Guizhou province is without electricity, though some power has been restored according to Zhang Lu of CCTV9 speaking from the capital Guiyang. The restoration of power has come at a price. Three electricians were killed yesterday after the pylon on which they were working collapsed in Hunan province. Two others had died the previous day.

Thousands of passengers remain stuck at stations attempting to travel between Guangzhou and Beijing. According to CCTV-9 some trains had departed and alleviated some of the backlog. But 24 hours after the Chinese Premier spoke to crowds CNN’s Hugh Rimington, who was reporting from Guangzhou Station, said no trains had left and up to half a million were still waiting for the non existent transport. There was anger with one traveller telling CNN that the govt had no credibility. “Officials can go home but we workers are stuck” said one irate traveller. “I feel helpless” said another passenger while others talked of having spent all their money while waiting for a train back home. As scuffles broke out some were trampled under foot, but there were no serious injuries according to reports.

Hunan province is particularly hard hit with roads impassable. One traveller said fuel and oil had run out in many places and stranded motorists were being given water and biscuits by police. Some had been stuck on the roads for 7 days and the problems have affected delivery of food supplies. A total of 17 provinces have been affected and many people Red Cross Society of China is calling for donations in order to help fund thousands that have been cut off by the bad weather. The financial losses are estimated to have cost the country in excess of ¥32 billion [$3 billion]. Across the country official figures put the numbers of people stranded at 178.6 million and have deployed half a million troops to help in clearing roads and rail lines [BBC].

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