Archive for Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Storms paralyze New Year travel

January 30, 2008


— Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers desperate to get home for the Chinese New Year shivered in the cold under a sea of umbrellas outside train stations Tuesday, as the worst winter storms in half a century paralyzed China.

One of the world's biggest annual mass movements of humanity - a record 178.6 million people, more than the population of Russia - were expected to travel by train for the holiday, according to railway officials' estimates.

Most of those stranded at train stations were migrant workers trying to leave booming southern Guangdong province - often called the world's factory floor because it makes everything from Honda sedans to Apple iPods and Nike sneakers.

In China, the New Year holiday, which begins Feb. 7, is as important as Christmas is in the West. For most migrant workers, it's the only time of the year when they can visit their hometowns, and they often take a month off to visit with their families.

The extreme weather showed no signs of letting up Tuesday, with cities blacked out, highways closed because of treacherous conditions and trains canceled. A bus crash on an icy road killed at least 25 people - the worst accident since the blizzards began.

The weather has paralyzed areas that generally receive little snow and communities lack the removal equipment and experience to deal with it. More than a foot has accumulated in hard-hit provinces of Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui, Zhejiang and the city of Shanghai, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

Huge red banners hanging at the train station in the provincial capital, Guangzhou, urged migrant workers to cancel plans to return home, cash in their tickets and return to their factory dormitories. About 200,000 people took the advice and got ticket refunds, railway officials said, while about 200,000 others stayed at the station, milling around in a bone-chilling drizzle.

The busy Beijing-Guangzhou line may not return to normal for three to five days, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Spending the holiday in Guangdong was a painful thought for Wang Yusheng, a 33-year-old salesman from the central province of Henan. He nibbled on a chicken wing outside Guangzhou's station as he slowly gave up hope of going home. His backup plan was to spend the holiday where he works in the city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

"We in the North eat dumplings during the holiday, but people in the South don't," said Wang. "Southern food really tastes terrible. It's really going to be different celebrating the New Year here."


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