Millions Begin China Holiday Without Power


Millions of Chinese began the biggest holiday of the year without power on Wednesday but tens of thousands of stranded passengers had found trains, buses and planes to get back home for family reunions.

Scores have died in snow-related accidents in the run-up to the Lunar New Year break, one of the greatest annual migrations of humanity, with the traditional travel chaos compounded by the coldest winter in 100 years across vast swathes of south, central and eastern China.

Whole cities have had their power and water cut off for more than a week and 11 electricians have been killed trying to reconnect lines or break ice encasing poles and cables. Livestock and crops have been destroyed.

Chenzhou, a city in the central province of Hunan and the worst hit, began its 12th day without power on Wednesday.

"It is now connected with the provincial power grid, and its 4 million residents are likely to see power and water supply resume later on Wednesday," Xinhua news agency said.

More than 5,000 electricians, including 2,000 summoned from other provinces, were struggling to repair damaged power lines and pylons.

About 1,000 pylons and poles had collapsed under the weight of ice and snow, which means the local grid, that took decades to build, had effectively been destroyed, Xinhua said.

Impact of China's Snowstorms

"Chenzhou residents have to collect coal and charcoal to warm themselves, which caused the prices to surge tenfold."

Across the country, 170 of more than 2,000 counties had suffered outages. By Tuesday night, 131 counties had had their power restored, or partially restored.

Rising prices of coal, vegetables, pork, rice and other staples have added to the holiday misery, but the sea of travellers waiting for trains, especially in Guangzhou in the south, had cleared.

Many mostly poor, migrant workers had already given up trying to get a ticket and opted to stay put.

"Millions of Chinese had to say 'sorry' to their loved ones," Xinhua said.

The remote township of Wengxiang in the snowy mountains of Guizhou hasn't had electricity since Jan. 14. Residents also had to negotiate steep, icy paths to fetch water in buckets because pipes are frozen or cracked.

"At night, it's like a blanket of darkness," said Pan Zhengkai, adding that families ate their dinner at 4 pm before darkness set in.

"I guess we'll have to have the new year celebrations in darkness." he said. "We can't afford candles."

But the holiday preparations continued, including a group of small boys and young men, roosters under their arms, getting ready for a cockfight.

And firecrackers, which will explode through the night across China and for much of the next 10 days, had started in villages in the prefecture of Togren, further east towards Hunan, which has also been without power since January.

"The biggest problem has been keeping the children warm at night," said farmer Ye Xiaoling in the farming and manganese mining area of Wanshan.

"Our problem is that our homes and everything else is not used to such cold."

She also said the children had complained they would not be able to watch the traditional state TV entertainment special, often described as the most watched television special on Earth, later on Wednesday night.