Monday, February 26, 2024

Blizzards disrupt lunar new year travel for millions in China

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Millions of people in China have had their annual visit home for lunar new year disrupted by blizzards and freezing rain, with delayed or cancelled transport leaving travellers stranded.

Videos on social media showed people hacking away at thick layers of ice that have brought roads to a standstill as millions of people try to get home before spring festival, which starts on 10 February.

The festival is China’s busiest travel period; for millions of urban workers, it is their only trip all year to their home towns, where they can celebrate with friends and family over the seven days of national holiday.

More than 2,000 extra flights had been scheduled for the period, but hundreds have been cancelled because of the weather.

More than 120 sections of major roads were closed because of the heavy snowfall, according to state media. Temperatures in central and eastern China dropped below freezing, with thousands of workers being deployed to clear the roads and restore train services.

Workers clearing ice and snow off the tracks near Lianyungang East railway station in Jiangsu province. Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

One woman posted on social media that she had been stuck on a highway in Hunan for three days because of the snow. Villagers came to sell hot rice by the roadside for 40 yuan (£4.48) a bowl, prompting an online discussion about whether that was a fair price. Some people argued it was, considering the effort in making and transporting the rice in the conditions; others saw it as extortion.

The weather has been described as the worst spring festival conditions since 2008, judging by the number of sub-zero days in the two weeks leading up to lunar new year. More than 20 people died in the blizzards of 2008.

This year, at least two people have died, one in Hubei and one in Hunan, after snowfall caused shop awnings and market rooftops to collapse.

The ministries of finance and transport said that 141m yuan (£15.8m) would be issued to support local authorities in clearing the highways.

Blizzards have hit Anhui, Hubei and Hunan provinces. On Sunday, the National Meteorological Centre issued an orange alert for heavy snowfall in some parts of China.

More snow is expected to fall on Wednesday, with conditions easing on Thursday, according to the official meteorologists.

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