02/04/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Snow eases, roads and railways re-open but the situation remains critical

Thanks to a break in the weather links have been re-established and power and water have been restored to the hardest-hit areas. But coal-burning power stations have supplies for just a few days. Tens of millions of migrants are still on the move. As President Hun warns that the crisis is not over yet, people express their frustration online.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Improving weather and days of hard work by 1.3 million army troops and reservists have allowed traffic to move again. Still President Hu Jintao is quoted as saying during a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee that the “weather and severe disaster will continue to plague certain regions in the south,” and that much work remains to be done.

Several airports in hard-hit Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Sichuan provinces have re-opened. Railway services have resumed their activities but in some sections, the flow of passengers is still not back to normal. Many travellers are still stranded in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Nanchang and elsewhere. In Shanghai alone, 795,000 people left by train on Saturday alone, and a further 110,000 left by road on Sunday. But in Guangzhou hundreds of trains were cancelled over the past few days and on Saturday a woman was killed in a stampede.

The Lunar New Year, which begins on Thursday, is for about 100 to 200 million migrant workers the only time they can take a holiday and go home to see children, families and friends.

With weather improving many of those millions who had been dissuaded from travel by the gridlocked transportation system are now planning to go, but the government's priorities remain the transportation of coal for power plants, goods needed for disaster-relief efforts and food.

On Sunday the Beijing-Zhuhai north-south highway was cleared after ice on the Shaoguan section in Guangdong had made travel impossible trapping more than 10,000 people in their vehicles.

Bus services are slowly returning to normal and might help in taking off some of the pressure from the railway system and ensure supplies of fuel and food.

Power and water supplies were restored in many towns and cities like Chenzhou (which has 4 million residents) left without for more than a week.

And although material difficulties and the army presence prevented any public protest, frustration is running high as shown by the many comments popping up all over the net with stories of people staying in the dark, in the cold and without water for days, feeling abandoned by the authorities. “Please wake up Guizhou government!” wrote someone from Bijie (Guizhou).

Economic losses have been estimated to be at least 53.8 billion yuan (US$ 7.5 billion). The price of vegetables in 36 cities rose more than 30 per cent from January 25 to 30 because of transportation problems.  And there are fears that problems may persist over the next few months since estimates of crop-damaged areas have reached 141 million mu (23 million acres).

The weather fiasco has also brought China unwanted negative publicity six months before the Summer Olympics in Beijing, deflating much of the authorities’ claim to great efficiency and organisation. 

The energy situation is remains critical. According to official sources, despite re-supply current coal reserves can only maintain operations for less than seven days in power plant in Beijing, Tianjin, Tangshan, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Anhui, Hubei and Shaanxi.

The government has called on about 90 per cent of state-owned coal mines to continue production during the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday.

In the meantime the forecast for tonight is for heavy rain, fog and more snow, especially in hard-hit Hunan.

“For some provinces such as Hubei and Hunan, it’s been the biggest snowfall in 100 years,” reported the China Meteorological Administration.

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