GUANGZHOU, CHINA - CHINA'S chief meteorologist admitted on Monday the country was not prepared for the severe winter weather that has stranded millions of people struggling to get home for Lunar New Year.
The blizzards and icy temperatures that have lasted nearly three weeks have left millions stuck at airports, train stations and bus depots across south, central and eastern China.
'We didn't expect the snowy weather would last so long,' China Meteorological Administration (CMA) chief Zheng Guoguang said, according to the Xinhua news agency.
'Because it was beyond our expectation we were not prepared,' Mr said Zheng, pointing to lack of equipment for removing ice in the south, which is experiencing its worst winter weather in decades.
The fact that the extreme weather occurred during the Lunar New Year holiday when tens of millions of migrant workers rush home to be with their families had only made things worse, he said.
Heavy fog descended on Monday on southern China, complicating the task of helping stranded travellers.
The fog reduced visibility to less than 100 metres in some places, as meteorologists warned a new wave of snow, rain and sleet would likely hit in the next two days, Xinhua said.
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 desperately 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.
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 such as Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, which has China's biggest concentration of migrant workers.
Thousands of police were mobilised and deployed at the train 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,' said 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.'
President Hu Jintao called on the public to remain confident in the battle against the severe weather, according to Xinhua.
'We have to continue to put relief work as the top priority and carry it out in real earnest,' Mr Hu added.
And Premier Wen Jiabao said things were slowly returning to normal.
'At present, electricity supply is gradually resuming and transport services are basically back to normal, and the country's production and life are in normal conditions,' Mr Wen said.
North-south expressway reopened
A key expressway linking Beijing to the southern city of Zhuhai near Macau was fully reopened for traffic early on Monday, Xinhua reported.
The drivers of 6,000 vehicles, some of whom had been stuck in the snow and ice for nine days, were rescued by soldiers as the army even deployed tanks to clear the ice in some areas, it said.
However, 17,000 vehicles remained stranded on nine different sections of expressway around China, the agency reported.
The weather has destroyed crops, hit industrial production, disrupted coal and food supplies and led to power blackouts, at an estimated cost of around US$7.5 billion (S$10.6 billion), according to official figures.
At least 105 million out of the country's 1.3 billion people have been affected and scores have been killed, the government says.
Eleven electricians have been killed in the storms as they tried to restore power to regions hit by blackouts, Xinhua said on Monday.
Central Hunan and neighbouring Hubei province have seen their worst winter weather in a century, a CMA official said. -- AFP