/ 5 February 2008

China predicts ‘final victory’ in weather war

China’s prime minister said ”victory” was in sight on Tuesday with the country finally overcoming huge transport and power problems caused by weeks of savage weather ahead of Lunar New Year.

A huge backlog of passengers left stranded at airports, train stations and bus depots across south, central and eastern China by blizzards and icy temperatures in the last three weeks appeared to be clearing.

With just two days before the Lunar New Year, the most important festival on the Chinese calendar, there were signs at Guangzhou Railway Station in the south of China that the worst problems were over.

”This looks much better than the past few days, I really hope I’ll be able to get on my train today,” said one migrant worker, surnamed Liu, as crowds thinned markedly on Tuesday.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers had gathered here in recent days to find a train out amid scenes of mayhem and despair.

China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, expressed confidence that the worst problems stemming from the freezing conditions were over.

”China is confident and capable in achieving the final victory in combating disasters incurred by low temperature, ice and heavy snow,” the China Daily online edition said, citing Wen.

”Electricity supply is gradually resuming and transport services are basically back to normal, and the country’s production and life are in normal conditions,” he was quoted as saying by the paper.

Whereas over the weekend the police ordered passengers to wait outside the station building for fear of chaos inside, passengers for morning and mid-day trains here were allowed on to the platform on Tuesday.

”There were much less people today [Tuesday]. The peak season is over now,” one police officer said.

But unscrupulous sellers still prowled the outskirts of the station preying on thousands who had not managed to get a hold of tickets.

”They are thieves! The tickets were sold out long ago so we couldn’t get them. Now I have no choice but to buy from these people,” said one worker after paying double for tickets to Hubei province in central China.

”It’s terrible for them to take advantage of people who need to go home!” said another incensed worker who also paid twice the usual fare.

Xinhua news agency, however, quoted the Cabinet’s emergency command centre as saying the number of stranded rail passengers at Guangzhou was 80 000 late on Monday, down by only 12 000 from one day earlier.

The slow pace meant many migrant workers, who provide the muscle for south China’s export machine, realised they would not be able to go home for the Lunar New Year.

Instead, 12,5-million, or 40%, of all migrants employed in the southern province of Guangdong, have decided to stay put and celebrate New Year in their dormitories, the China Daily newspaper reported.

Elsewhere in China, traffic was gradually returning to normal, bolstered by manpower from the People’s Liberation Army.

One photo showed a soldier of the Chinese military unconventionally de-icing a segment of road with a flamethrower.

Almost all the airports in snow-affected regions have resumed operations, though heavy fog forced 47 flights to be cancelled and another 1 006 flights were delayed Monday, leaving 29 000 passengers stranded, Xinhua said. — AFP