China Begins Slow Recovery From Snow Disaster

BEIJING — Roads, railways and air traffic are slowly returning to normal in China, where the worst snowstorms in 50 years have stranded millions of travelers trying to get home for this week’s Lunar New Year holiday.

China’s main north-south freeway reopened Monday after weeks of snow and ice storms cut off transport and seriously disrupted supplies of food and fuel during the country’s peak holiday season.

Authorities are still warning drivers about possible traffic jams on the Zhuhai-Beijing freeway. They say they need to leave lanes open for emergency vehicles and trucks carrying supplies.

More than 10,000 vehicles had been backed up along a 75-kilometer-long section of the road, while soldiers worked to remove ice.

Chinese authorities are forecasting more snow and cold temperatures in the coming days. On China Central Television, broadcast nationwide, the weather announcer repeated the government’s warning to travelers not to go out on the roads unless absolutely necessary.

She also announced that Chinese airlines have begun flying several additional daily flights from the snow-hit regions to other parts of the country, where transportation may be easier. This way travelers may still be able to return home in time for the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts Wednesday evening.

The harsh winter weather has ripped down power lines and disrupted road and rail transport, stranding millions of people. Authorities say at least 60 people have been killed. Initial estimates measure weather damages will cost at least $7.5 billion.
At the Jian supermarket in Beijing, business was brisk as people completed their last minute Lunar New Year shopping.

Like most Beijing residents, one of the women working to repackage fresh vegetables in the supermarket says the storms farther south have not had a noticeable impact on the Chinese capital. Despite the increased demand for fruits and vegetables around the Lunar New Year, Beijing planned in advance and so has what it needs.

She points out, though, that the snows have killed many crops in the south. One solution has been to ship more fruits and vegetables from the north to the south, rather than the usual south to north. She says, for example, that means her relatives in Hunan are paying much higher prices for northern cabbage, a Beijing winter mainstay.

— Stephanie Ho, Voice of America

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