(Adds comment and updates damage statistics in paragraphs
By John Ruwitch
GUANGZHOU, China Jan 30 Millions of Chinese
shivered through power cuts and water shortages on Wednesday
and millions more were stranded by snow and ice ahead of what
is for many their only family reunion of the year.
Migrant workers in the booming southern province of
Guangdong, standing under a grey sky and bitterly cold rain,
have been urged to abandon plans to go home for the Lunar New
Year, when families travel vast distances to reunite.
A sea of people crammed around the main railway station in
the provincial capital, Guangzhou, huddling under umbrellas and
waiting for a chance to get home. Trains have been paralysed by
crippled power upline that has snarled the regional network.
For tens of millions of migrant workers, leaving their
families to work in China's fast-developing cities, the
holiday, also known as the Spring Festival, is the only chance
to see loved ones all year.
"I couldn't buy a ticket before, but I hope with all the
people returning their tickets, someone will sell me one now,"
said Ding Ming, eager to return to his hometown in Chongqing,
30 hours away by train, to see his wife and 10-year-old child.
"If I don't get one, or can't go back, then it's not ideal.
That's just the way it is."
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told passengers stuck at
Changsha station in southern China on Tuesday that he was
sorry. On Wednesday, he visited Guangzhou to offer similar
"You have suffered a lot from the inconvenience," Wen told
the crowd with a bullhorn as families stood around, some
playing cards, some trying to entertain their children.
Ye Jun, who had camped out near the station for two days
waiting for a train to Wuhan in central China, responded to the
Premier's visit with exhausted resignation.
"It hasn't made much difference. We're still sitting here
like before," Ye told Reuters.
DEATHS, POWER CUTS, INFLATION
At least 55 people have died, including 25 on Tuesday in a
bus crash on an icy mountain road, Xinhua news agency reported.
Several electricity workers were killed while repairing frozen
and collapsed lines.
The snow and sleet blanketing much of central, eastern and
southern China has also hobbled infrastructure already
straining to keep up with feverish economic growth.
Highways and railways are clogged with stranded trucks and
trains loaded with coal, food and passengers. Police said 6,400
vehicles were stuck on one stretch of highway in Hunan
province, next to Guangdong.
The fierce winter weather, which many affected places call
the worst in half a century or longer, was likely to last at
least three more days, forecasters said.
"Dealing with this snow disaster is even more complicated
than tackling the floods of 1998 or other natural disasters we
have faced," relief official Wang Zhenyao told state
television. "We can mobilise millions of troops to fight
floods, but at the moment we can't even fly anyone in to offer
The transport snarl has choked coal shipments, magnifying
energy shortages that have caused power brownouts in 17 of
China's 31 provinces and province-status cities.
In Guangdong, many power plants had just two days of coal
left, the official Guangzhou Daily said, and authorities were
shipping in emergency supplies on a fleet of 125 cargo ships.
More than 5 million people in the central and southern
provinces of Hubei, Guizhou and Jiangxi have had water supplies
reduced or cut off, and parts of Guizhou have endured two weeks
without power, Xinhua said.
Vegetable, tea, grains and fruit crops have been destroyed.
Analysts said the brutal weather was a short-term blow to
the economy and would stoke inflation that already has the
government worried. It hit an 11-year high of 4.8 percent last
The National Development and Reform Commission, which
steers pricing policy, said the price of cabbage and other
staple vegetables has jumped by over 50 percent in snow-struck
areas, and in some places rises have been much higher.
(Additional reporting by Lu Jianxin in Shanghai and Guo
Shipeng, Ben Blanchard and Chris Buckley in Beijing; Writing by
Nick Macfie; Editing by Katie Nguyen)