Tuesday, February 05, 2008

China crisis - clear up begins

CNN's Dan Rivers in Shaoshan in front of a collapsed car plant

The crowds of travellers are beginning to dwindle in China as major parts of the transport network begin to flow. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police have helped clear roads, railway lines and re-establish power. CNN’s Dan Rivers travelled with some of the travellers hoping to return to their families for the Lunar New Year and described the cramped and crowded conditions on the train from Guangzhou. There were arguments between passengers over seats, confrontations with guards and further frustrations as the train stopped for hours apparently going nowhere. After 27 hours the train arrived at its destination, a journey that should have taken a little over 12 hours. For some the journey was still not over as they boarded a connecting route to their home town. Back at Guangzhou the crowds are still evident, but have eased significantly over the weekend. Many workers have given up trying to get home and return to their factory dormitories. The crowds that remain are now heavily controlled by large numbers of police to prevent the scenes seen last week in which at least one woman died in crushes and stampedes. On Friday, a woman called Li Hongxia fell before the rushing crowd. She had been trampled by people powerless to avoid her and died the next day in hospital. Li worked in a watch factory in Guandong and was trying to get home to Hubei province [CNN]. Hugh Riminton [blog] filed a Live report from the station and spoke of being harassed by the police when trying to set up to broadcast, something that Dan Rivers had also experienced 48 hours earlier prior to catching a train. Others who had travelled by train spoke of far longer journeys and of fights breaking out [CNN]. There has been no update with regards the progress made by Andrew Stevens who was on the road from Nanjing to Hefei. On Friday he had only travelled only 48km [30 miles] in 18 hours with more than 160km [100 miles] in front of him. But there have been no reports from this correspondent throughout the rest of his journey, so he like many thousands may still be stuck on the road.

There was some relief as rain began to fall in some areas melting the snow. But the cold weather is likely to make travel difficult in parts of central and eastern China for some days to come. Some areas are still without power and water and the destruction left in the wake of the bad weather will take weeks to put right. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed after the weight of snow brought down homes and factories. In Shaoshan, Mao Zedong’s hometown in Hunan province, snow on this scale has not been seen since the 1950s. One resident told Dan Rivers said the last time he saw weather as bad as this was 1952. The coming New Year celebrations will certainly be remembered this year. But the authorities would perhaps prefer the crisis was forgotten.

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