Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Year of the Rat, the first sign of the new cycle in the Chinese zodiac has been celebrated throughout the country with fireworks, decorations and lanterns. But millions of Chinese have been forced to mark the holiday far from the traditional family reunion, working to repair roads and power lines destroyed by bad weather and snow storms which invested 16 of China’s 31 provinces.
Leaders spent New Year’s Eve in the worst hit areas of the centre-south, in attempts to console the population, offering their apologies for inefficient emergency services and encouraging the work teams who have to resurrect kilometres of power lines after pylons collapsed under heavy snow. According to Xinhua, airplanes transported over 100 tonnes of candles to many southern cities, where people are suffering due to the lack of electricity.
The propaganda machine is also in full tilt to calm popular anger and the ire of migrant workers stranded in the big cities and prevented from returning to their native villages for the only week of holidays they are allowed in the year.
Premier Wen Jiabao, on a visit to Jiangxi and Guizhou – where there are some cities that have been without power for over three weeks now – addressed the local population in patriotic tones: “We lost much in the weather disaster ... but we also got many things, such as courage, will and the ability to overcome difficulties. Amid the disaster, relations between officials and the masses strengthened and people became more united”.
President Hu Jintao visited Guangxi, in the south, helping soldiers to pile up food and other emergency aid for distribution. “If we are united as one, - he said - working in strength, we can overcome the current difficulties and ensure victory all round … No disaster could vanquish the great Chinese people”.
About 1 million police and soldiers have been deployed in the worst affected areas and in railway stations to help those hit by the disaster but also to control the disappointed and angered masses.
Official information reports that 2300 mines will remain open during the holiday period to restore coal reserves that were almost exhausted during the emergency.
Transport systems are also returning to normal, millions of migrant workers have been forced to stay in the big cities: in Guangzhou at least 22 million; in Shanghai over 100 million.
It is estimated that the bad weather has affected over 100 million people and cost over 80 billion Yuan (8 billion Euros) in damages.
Over 80 people died and hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed along with many crops.