01/29/2008, 00.00
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Bad weather snares 77 million Chinese, nearly 400 thousand homes destroyed

There is a critical shortage of electricity, with dozens of power plants closed because of a lack of coal. Highways and airports are closed, and train service is interrupted: millions of migrants are unable to return home for the new year holiday, hundreds of thousands are camping out at the train stations, and prices are sky high. The army is intervening to bring food and coal.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The situation is dramatic in China, which has been struck by the worst snowfall in the last 50 years.  According to the minister for civil affairs, the bad weather has struck 77 million persons, with 24 deaths.  399,000 homes have been destroyed and 4.2 million hectares of crops have been ruined, with direct economic losses no less than 22 billion yuan (3.06 billion dollars).

Because of the bad weather and a shortage of coal, 7% of the coal-fired power plants have been shut down, with a loss of more than 40 gigawatts of generation. Another 90 plants (10% of the total) indicated today that they have reserves only for another three days, while the daily total of coal supplies for power plants stands at 21.2 million tonnes, half the amount normal for this period.  Beijing is asking the small coal mines that have been closed because of non-compliance with the rules to resume production, if they are now "in compliance".  The more than 800,000 inhabitants of Chenzhou (Hunan) have been without electricity and water for five days.

The situation is catastrophic in Hunan, Guizhou, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hubei, and Jiangxi, where thousands of workers are camping out in the train stations and airports (19 airports are closed, and many others are in serious difficulty), trying to return home for the lunar new year.  Meanwhile, temperatures have fallen to below zero, and food prices are sky high.  In the train station of Guangzhou alone, more than 500,000 persons are waiting for the resumption of train service to Beijing, which has been shut down because of energy shortages in Hunan.  The authorities are trying to head off a massive buildup of traveller arrivals at the station, and have even sent messages to everyone's cell phones, advising them not to come.  But even rumours that service has been restored bring thousands of travellers to the station.  The snow has also closed seven of the eight highways that connect Guangdong and Hunan: it is estimated that more than 20,000 vehicles and 60,000 passengers have been stranded.  It is thought that more than 70,000 travellers have been delayed at the main train station in Shanghai.  According to the state news agency Xinhua, it will take three to five days for the situation to return to normal.

A memo from the labour department in Guangdong says "authorities shall persuade migrant workers to postpone homebound journeys and strive to keep more than 65 percent of them in Guangdong during the festival". In Guangdong, an industrial region that gets most of its food from other provinces, transportation problems and price increases have tripled the cost of some vegetables.

The government has mobilised the army to bring supplies to citizens and power plants, and to remove the ice.  But the media and citizens complain that news has been released late and in partial form, especially in many train stations. "Blocked information", writes Beijing News, "is the big enemy of disaster relief".

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See also
China on its knees, government unable to cope with snow emergency
Following snow disruptions, Guangzhou train station has backlog of 800,000 passengers
Snow emergency resembles SARS crisis of 2003
The new year brings an end to the snow emergency
Chinese inflation remains high, economic growth slows


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