01/31/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Following snow disruptions, Guangzhou train station has backlog of 800,000 passengers

Service returned to almost normal only today. Extra trains are being added to the schedule. But many highways are still blocked, and the electricity situation is still serious. The bad weather has disrupted 19 million telephone lines. 2.5 million people have been evacuated. Meanwhile, the government is in propaganda mode.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The bad weather has hit at least 105 million people, and in some areas the situation is getting worse because of a lack of electricity and food: 2.5 million people have been evacuated from the hardest hit zones, or are about to be evacuated.  The situation at the Guangzhou train station improved only today, with the restoration - according to the railway minister - of the Guangzhou-Beijing line.  Yesterday the number of travellers waiting at the Guangzhou station reached about 800,000, mostly migrants returning home for the lunar new year holiday. Some of them have been waiting for days. 

The railway minister has announced that extra trains will be provided "to transport 400,000 passengers a day". But the situation is still serious, because 178.6 million people are expected to ride the rails over the holiday - more than the population of Russia. Although the authorities have asked the migrants to postpone their departure, it is feared that the news of restored train service will bring the massive arrival of the many people who preferred not to wait at the station.

Many power plants are running short of coal, which fuels three fourths of them. Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Meteorological Administration, explains that "in normal weather conditions, it would take at least one week for full restoration of power supplies. Against the current backdrop, it will take far longer for electricity supplies, and road and railway traffic to return to normal".

Economic losses have been estimated at 32.7 billion yuan (4.5 billion dollars) so far. More than 750,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged by the snow. 6.7 million hectares of crops have been damaged. 19 million homes are without phone service, after the bad weather knocked down lines. Various airports have been reopened, but the snow and bad weather are expected to continue for at least another 10 days.

12 highways are still closed, crossing 6 provinces, with tens of thousands of vehicles stranded in the middle of the road.  The news is full of stories of the "ordinary heroism" of people who have gone out into the snow to seek their stranded relatives. Like Liu Zhongping, a labourer in Shenzhen (in the photo), who walked for 30 hours along 20 kilometres of road full of stranded cars, on the Beijing-Zhuhai highway, to find his six year-old son and his wife's parents.  He spent 20 yuan to fill a thermos with boiling water - a sum of money that is usually enough to buy 5 or 6 complete meals - and set out.  He ate only a bowl of rice and vegetables, in three days, before he reached them.

The government is mobilizing all of its resources in the face of the emergency, but it is unable to resist the temptation of making propaganda as well.  "After 30 years of reform and opening up", prime minister Wen Jibao said in Guangzhou, "we've accumulated a strong material foundation and as long as we're vigorously organised, we will be fully able to vanquish the current hardship".

"When one place suffers misfortune", writes the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the communist party, "aid comes from all directions. That is the traditional virtue of the Chinese nation and even more it is a vivid portrait of the superiority of the socialist system".

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