China Struggles to Cope With Winter Storms as More Snow Forecast

China struggled Wednesday to cope with its worst winter storms in five decades, with transportation snarled and cities paralyzed, and more bad weather forecast.

Snow and ice storms have struck east, central and southern China for more than two weeks, causing dozens of deaths, collapsing buildings and forcing the closure of highways and airports.

The China Meteorological Administration said the bad weather, including more snow, was expected to continue for at least the next three days in parts of eastern and southern China.

"Guizhou, Jiangsu and Shandong have suffered their worst snowfalls in 50 years," the administration said. For other provinces, such as Hunan and Shaanxi, it was the worst in 20 years.

The accumulated snowfall in some of the areas is not that much, but governments, businesses and residents in those areas do not have the equipment or experience to deal with it.

The weather also has taxed power systems and disrupted shipments of coal needed to power electricity plants.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday that the weather had caused new power disruptions in southwest Guizhou and eastern Jiangxi provinces even as similar problems were sorted out in central Hunan province. The new disruptions hampered the recovery of rail transport, Xinhua said.

The government said it was trying to get a handle on the situation, with President Hu Jintao chairing an emergency meeting and Premier Wen Jiabao visiting several provinces.

The streak of bad weather hit as tens of millions of Chinese were on the move for Chinese New Year -- one of the world's biggest annual mass movements of humanity.

Before the storms, railway officials estimated a record 178.6 million people -- more than the population of Russia -- would travel by train for the holiday, which begins Feb. 7.

But with trains canceled due to the weather, hundreds of thousands were stranded at railway stations.

The worst-hit were migrant workers trying to leave booming southern Guangdong province -- often called the world's factory floor because it makes everything from Honda sedans to Apple iPods and Nike sneakers.

The official Southern Daily newspaper in the Guangdong capital of Guangzhou said that so far 470,000 people had given up hope of getting home now and had got refunds for their tickets.

It said 200,000 were still spread out in temporary shelters away from the main Guangzhou station.

It quoted the city's mayor, Zhang Guangning, as saying 40 trains carrying 80,000 people were leaving the station a day, half the normal number.

In China, the New Year holiday is as important as Christmas is in the West. For most migrant workers, it's the only time of the year when they can visit their hometowns.

In one piece of good news, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China said on its Web site that all of the airports that were closed because of the weather had reopened, although there were still some delays.

Many of the airports, like the cities in southern and eastern China, are not accustomed to dealing with sustained snowfall.

State television showed pictures of trucks backed up for kilometers (miles) on highways.

Several cities suffered blackouts as heavy snowfalls snapped power lines and hampered the delivery of coal, used to generate most of China's electricity.

China's food watchdog issued an emergency circular Wednesday to ensure food safety in the face of the severe weather, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. It did not give details.

So far, the central government has given a total 126 million yuan (US$17 million, euro11.8 million) in aid to six provinces and one region battered by the winter weather, Xinhua said.

Xinhua said 158,000 soldiers and more than 300,000 paramilitary members had been dispatched to help people and to clear roads.