China starts to thaw out as weather crisis recedes

The thunder of firecrackers ushered in the Year of the Rat on Thursday, but millions of Chinese spent a cold holiday as repair teams fought to restore power knocked out by the worst winter weather in a century.

China’s leaders spent the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday in some of the worst-hit parts of south-central China commiserating with residents and encouraging relief workers.

Premier Wen Jiabao was in the provinces of Jiangxi and Guizhou on his third tour of disaster areas in nine days. He visited one city that has been without electricity for three weeks.

As well as mobilising more than a million soldiers and reservists to combat the snow and ice, the state has cranked up its propaganda machine to lift spirits for the most important day in the calendar.

”When disaster struck, help came from all sides, which indicated the superiority of China’s socialism,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Wen as saying.

In Chenzhou, a city in the central province of Hunan that has been one of the most badly affected areas, the lights were gradually coming back on after an 11-day blackout.

About 1 000 electricity pylons and poles have collapsed around Chenzhou under the weight of ice and snow, effectively destroying the local power grid.

For Li Hua (34) the power came back on just in time for her to prepare the traditional New Year’s Eve meal for her family. ”I was so happy, and I felt so good when I was cooking the reunion dinner,” she said.

Liu Mingwang was not so lucky. He is still without power and water even though the local government headquarters, less than 100m away, has both.

”If they have electricity and we do not, that’s really unfair. We should all be treated equally,” Liu (40) said.

Power is back in Zhao Yaqing’s building but water is still not being pumped up to her fourth-floor apartment.

”Every day we carry five or six buckets of water up to our home from the fire hydrant. I hope the city government can do something about this. It’s so inconvenient,” Zhao (45) said as she washed clothes at a hydrant near her home.

Thawing out

State media reported that power had been restored partly or fully to 164 of 169 counties battered by blizzards across vast swathes of central, southern and eastern China — parts of the country simply not prepared for severe winter weather.

Scores died in snow-related accidents in the run-up to the holiday, but the weather improved in time to enable tens of millions to make it home by road and rail in what is the biggest annual migration on Earth.

On Wednesday alone, as a severe-weather alert was lifted, the rail network carried 2,54-million passengers, the government said. Highways were back to normal and only one airport, in Guizhou, was closed.

But the break in the weather came too late for millions of poor migrant workers who had no choice but to spend the holiday at the factories that have made China the workshop of the world.

The economic planning agency said nearly 2 300 mines were working through the holidays to rebuild coal stocks that were depleted as snow and ice snarled the railways. As of Tuesday, state-owned power stations had 10 days’ supply, it said.

President Hu Jintao visited the autonomous region of Guangxi in the south where state television showed him helping soldiers load food and other aid on to a helicopter.

”If we are united as one, working in strength, we can overcome the current difficulties and ensure victory all round,” he said.

The deafening sound of firecrackers will reverberate across China for much of the next 10 days. Xinhua reported that one person had been killed in Beijing and 75 injured setting off fireworks. – Reuters

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Royston Chan
Royston Chan works from Hong Kong. Business Development Manager, Asia @AP_GMS // Juxtaposing life and television Royston Chan has over 143 followers on Twitter.

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