02/09/2008, 00.00
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The new year brings an end to the snow emergency

Hard work on the part of electricians, miners, and soldiers permits the restoration of electricity and transportation. Electricity has come back almost everywhere, but repairs continue. Some stories from the big cities sunk in darkness and cold. 800 yuan for a hotel room with hot water.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The situation is almost back to normal in China, with roads and train lines open again and electricity restored almost everywhere.  The provincial electricity networks have been repaired, except for that of Guizhou.  All of the coal-fired power plants have fuel for at least 10 days, except for "only" 38 stations, which have enough only for three days.

The work of electricians, miners, transportation employees, and many others who worked through the holiday, together with improvement in the weather, has won out over the emergency, although the meteorologists warn that the threat of snow continues. 80 deaths have been counted from the snow, 800,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and the damage has reached at least 80 billion yuan, according to the Chinese Red Cross.  On February 7th, the first day of the lunar new year, 76,000 people departed from the train station of Guangzhou, twice the usual number of travellers.

The emergency has brought stories of two weeks spent in cold and darkness. Like in Chenzhou, a city of 4.6 million people that remained without electricity or water for two weeks, becoming a ghost city in the evenings, with the stores closed and the streets deserted.  Cars lined up for four hours to fill up with petrol, there was an endless line of dozens of people drawing water from the fire hydrants, and no gas for cooking, but only coal, or wood gathered from the street.  No television or radio, and not even mobile phones after the batteries ran out.  A journalist for the South China Morning Post recounts that very few in the city were aware of the surprise visit of prime minister Wen Jibao, because no sort of information was available.  Without electricity, the banks were closed and only cash was accepted in the city.  The prices of meat, vegetables, and candles more than tripled; but those who had the money got a room at the only five-star hotel in the city: it had electricity, hot water, and heating.  Space for one person cost least 800 yuan per day, but it was full nonetheless, with people sleeping even in the sauna and in the massage areas.  There were 5 or 6 in a two-person room, and those who stayed there invited their friends and family to take a hot shower.  The four-star hotels had electricity and water, but no heating.

Many families even gave up their traditional celebrations together. Zhou Chongguo, an inhabitant of Chenzhou, explains that "It is pointless to have a family reunion when the meal is not going to be a normal year-end dinner". "Having hot food is already a blessing when there is no electricity, gas and water". But his family did not omit, on the first day of the new year, its visit to the grandparents, more than eighty years old, in a nearby village, for which they had to walk for hours through the snow.

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See also
Bad weather snares 77 million Chinese, nearly 400 thousand homes destroyed
China on its knees, government unable to cope with snow emergency
Snow eases, roads and railways re-open but the situation remains critical
Following snow disruptions, Guangzhou train station has backlog of 800,000 passengers
A China signed by bad weather celebrates the Year of the Rat


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