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Heavy fog adds to travel woes of millions in China

04 February, 2008

Passengers enter the railway station in China's southern city of Guangzhou on February 4. Heavy fog descended Monday on large parts of southern China,

GUANGZHOU, China (AFP) -Heavy fog descended Monday on large parts of southern China, complicating the task of helping millions of workers stranded by winter weather that in some areas is the worst in 100 years.

It reduced visibility to less than 100 metres (330 feet) in key provinces, as meteorologists warned a new wave of snow, rain and sleet was likely to hit over the coming two days, Xinhua news agency reported.

At Guangzhou railway station in the south, where one woman was trampled to death in a stampede over the weekend, tens of thousands of people were trying to get a train out before Thursday's Lunar New Year holiday.

"It's very dangerous here because there are too many people around," said Zhou Xiaoyang, a migrant worker standing outside the station with his wife and eight-month-old son.

"Even if you don't push people, they push you. But I have no choice, I have to go home to see my family," he said.

The blizzards and icy temperatures that have lasted nearly three weeks now have stranded millions of people at airports, railway stations and bus depots in China's south, central and eastern regions.

For many, Lunar New Year is their only chance to escape to their families after toiling in the factories, but the crippling weather has led to a massive backlog of travellers in places like Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province which has China's biggest concentration of migrant workers.

At Guangzhou, some 92,000 were still waiting late Sunday for a much-coveted train seat, according to official data reported by Xinhua.

Thousands of police were mobilised and deployed at the station, some lined up several layers deep at barricades, to prevent any repeat of the weekend's deadly stampede.

"For your own and others' safety, all travellers should remain calm," came the message blared out incessantly via loudspeaker. "Don't be anxious, don't push, don't run. Follow the police officers' orders to queue up quickly."

The weather has destroyed crops, hit industrial production, disrupted coal and food supplies and led to power blackouts, for a bill estimated at around 7.5 billion dollars, according to official figures.

State media quoted senior economists as saying the economic impact may not be as great as feared, with the crisis likely to spur investment on upgrading the power grid or improving the way coal is transported.

At least 105 million out of the country's 1.3 billion population have been affected and more than 60 have been killed, the government says.

Reports of more fatalities keep coming in. In the eastern city of Nanjing, four people were killed and 16 injured Sunday when the snow-laden ceiling of a petrol station suddenly collapsed, Xinhua said.

Some parts of China have seen their worst weather in 100 years this winter, a meteorological official told AFP.

"For some provinces such as Hubei and Hunan (both in central China), it's been the biggest snowfall in 100 years," the official at China Meteorological Administration's publicity department said.

"Other provinces have had the biggest snowfall in 50 years. Others, again, the biggest snowfall in decades," said the official, who declined to be named.

With the government anxious to show it has got the situation in its grip, President Hu Jintao chaired a meeting Sunday of top Communist Party officials to examine the relief effort.

They said the top priorities were getting stranded people home and ensuring adequate transport and power supplies.

"We have to be clear minded that certain regions in the south will continue to undergo icy weather... and severe disasters will continue," they said in a statement afterwards, according to Xinhua.

"Relief work will remain very grim, posing a tough task on us."


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