Stranded passengers queue in snow at Wuhan in China’s Hubei province
Tania Branigan in Beijing
Blizzards stranded hundreds of thousands of travellers in China yesterday as forecasters warned that further severe snowstorms were on their way. At least 24 people have died in the harsh weather – said to be the worst for half a century in parts of the country – which has also destroyed homes and crops, shut major roads and rail lines, grounded flights and caused power blackouts.
According to state news agency Xinhua, Premier Wen Jiabao warned yesterday that lives were still at risk, adding: “The most difficult phase has not passed.”
Yesterday the China Meteorological Administration issued a red alert, the highest of its five ratings, warning central and eastern China to expect severe snow and icestorms.
Yang Guiming, chief forecaster, said extreme weather could continue to affect the central, southern and north-west regions for up to a week.
It has already wreaked havoc on a transport system facing its busiest time of the year with millions of workers preparing to return home for the new year’s spring festival. For many it is their only chance to see their families.
The civil affairs ministry reported that 67 million people have been affected by the weather. It estimated the total cost to the country at 18.2bn yuan (£1.3bn).
Officials said thousands of passengers have been stuck on electric trains, and warned of blackouts in 17 provinces, cities and autonomous regions, with serious damage to power grids in central China’s Hubei and Hunan provinces and south China’s Guizhou and Guangdong provinces.
In Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, hundreds of police and soldiers struggled to control around 200,000 travellers – mostly migrant factory workers – stranded by the weather last night.
Radio announcements warned passengers that most trains had been cancelled and tickets were not being sold until February 7, the start of Chinese new year.