The Heat Is Online

Chinese Troops Pressed to Help in Worst Winter in 100 years

China Battles "Coldest Winter in 100 Years", Feb. 5, 2008


CHENZHOU, China - Millions remained stranded in China on Monday ahead of the biggest holiday of the year as parts of the country suffered their coldest winter in a century.


Freezing weather has killed scores of people and left travellers stranded before the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival -- the only opportunity many people have for a holiday all year.


It has also brought China unwanted negative publicity six months before the Summer Olympics in Beijing.


President Hu Jintao chaired an emergency Politburo meeting on Sunday for the second time in a week to discuss rescue efforts.


"We have to be clear-minded that the inclement weather and severe disaster will continue to plague certain regions in the south," said a statement issued after Sunday's meeting. "Relief work will continue to face challenges, posing a tough task."


The China Meteorological Administration said the weather was the coldest in 100 years in central Hubei and Hunan provinces, going by the total number of consecutive days of average temperature less than 1 degree Celsius (33.8 degrees Fahrenheit).


But it expected brighter weather ahead, though fog could become a problem and temperatures at night would likely still be below freezing, slowing the thaw.


"It is still necessary to remain alert for possible low temperatures, frozen rain, snow, freezing and heavy fog," said administration head Zheng Guoguang.


He added the cold snap had caught the country off guard, in an area unprepared for such heavy snow. But climate change could see more extremes in weather in China, Zheng warned.


Four people died after a snow-laden roof collapsed at a fuel station in the eastern city of Nanjing on Sunday, Xinhua news agency said. One person was killed in a stampede at Guangzhou railway station in the south as people rushed to board trains.


Roads and railways, some of which have been blocked for days, have started to move again, and fewer flights were being cancelled, state media said, offering a glimmer of hope.


The United States and Singapore pledged emergency aid of US$150,000 and $500,000 respectively, Xinhua said, as several other countries sent condolence messages.




Authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou said their priority was to clear the backlog of travellers, having cajoled millions of migrant workers to stay put and skip the holiday.


Elsewhere, efforts turned to restoring power and water, which some cities, such as Chenzhou in the south, have been without for more than a week, causing some to question China's ability to handle emergencies months before Beijing holds the Olympics.


"Without power the only information we have been getting is by SMS from the government," said Chenzhou resident Zheng Ninghong, tending a fruit stall amid the slush.


"There was one, I think, that said it would get warmer, but what we need is electricity."


China has largely avoided unrest throughout the crisis, in part due to the 519,000 soldiers and more than 1.6 million paramilitary police that have been deployed throughout the country to help with disaster relief and crowd control.


The government continued to lionize those working to restore normalcy, giving three policemen who died during the storms the title of "hero and model of all Chinese policemen".


Pictures from Wuhan, capital of the central province of Hubei and lying at the middle reaches of the Yangtze and Han rivers, showed cars blanketed not by snow, but by ice. Riverside barriers and trees were draped in huge icicles.


The China Daily quoted an economic planning official as saying power plants in Beijing and Shanghai had only enough coal for less than seven days.


"But top economic planners said the country had reversed a sharp decline in coal reserves. There was enough coal on Saturday to generate electricity for the entire country for the next eight days," the newspaper added.




Chinese troops to aid snow relief

Government mobilizes 500,000 troops in worst winter in decades, Jan. 30, 2008


The Chinese government has deployed almost half a million troops to help people affected by the worst winter weather in decades.


Severe snow has hit central and eastern China, paralysing transport networks ahead of the busiest holiday season.


Some areas are also experiencing food and power shortages, with deliveries of coal and other commodities delayed.


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been visiting travellers in affected regions.


On Wednesday he went to the main station in Guangzhou, where hundreds of thousands of people have been waiting, and issued a fresh apology.


"This has been very hard on everyone," he told the crowd.


"Currently every level of government is working on getting electricity restored, after that transport will resume."


On Tuesday, China's Politburo met to discuss the severe weather.


It issued a statement calling on local authorities to increase relief efforts and ensure a supply of coal to power stations.


Bus deaths


The snowstorms, which began on 10 January, are the worst for half a century and have affected nearly 80 million people across 14 provinces.


The central provinces of Hunan and Hubei have been hardest hit, but eastern provinces are also affected.


Houses and agricultural land have been destroyed and at least 50 people killed, 25 of whom died when their bus slid off an icy road in Guizhou.


With the snow set to continue, the government has ordered 158,000 soldiers and 303,000 paramilitary officers to help those affected by food or power shortages.

The army has also sent 419,000 quilts and 219,000 padded coats to the worst-hit areas, Xinhua news agency said.


Almost one million police have also been sent to control traffic on congested highways.


The snow has blocked roads and railway lines just as millions of travellers are trying to return home for the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on 7 February.

Enormous crowds have gathered at stations, but railway authorities in several cities had stopped selling tickets, Xinhua said.


In Guangzhou, where up to half a million people were reported to be stranded at one point, travellers described grim scenes.


The main station was besieged by "countless thousands of desperate and freezing people" too scared to leave in case they lost their chance to travel, witness Paul Surtees told the BBC from the city.


In an open letter, the government urged migrant workers in the city to abandon plans to travel, Xinhua said.


Some airports in the region have now been reopened and trains are beginning to run, it said.


But officials are warning that more bad weather could trigger further problems.