Freezing rain puts chill on traffic

By Wang Huazhong (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-04 08:32
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Freezing rain puts chill on traffic
Four passengers stranded on a section of the No 210 National Highway in Nandan county in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region grab available hot water on Monday. [Photo/Xinhua] 

NANNING - Thousands of vehicles and people stranded in and around Southwest China's Guizhou province by freezing rains since Saturday finally got their wheels moving on Monday as traffic slowly resumed on almost all highways in the province.

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However, passenger transport service in Guizhou and neighboring Hunan province along with Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region still face challenges as the National Meteorological Center on Monday issued its first freezing warning this year, predicting the icy weather would continue in the region for another three days.

Almost all expressways in Guizhou had been closed from Saturday to Monday morning after rain quickly turned into ice on the ground, leaving about 7,000 people stranded, according to the Guizhou provincial department of transport.

Starting Monday morning, traffic began to slowly return to normal in Guizhou with most highways reopened, said He Fei, an officer with the provincial department of transport.

"Road conditions today have become less problematic. Only in certain sections is the traffic still extremely slow," he said.

Thanks to the restoration of road service in Guizhou, 1,500 vehicles and 8,000 people waiting since Saturday to enter the province from Nandan county of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region had all rolled forward by Monday evening, reported China Central Television.

But traffic authorities in Hunan province told China Daily that the traffic flow into Guizhou remained closed on Monday and thousands of people were still stranded despite government efforts to divert them.

Police officer Nie Zhi of the Hunan traffic police headquarters said hundreds of vehicles, mostly trucks, were lining up at the Hunan highway entrance heading to Guizhou.

"We temporarily closed the traffic because roads in the mountainous province are covered by thick ice," Nie said.

"As of 3 pm, we diverted 100 trucks and our relief teams have distributed one egg and one piece of bread to every person stranded on highways in Hunan."

And as of 1 pm on Monday, 3,849 people were still stranded in long-distance bus stations in Guizhou, as almost all coach stations in the province had stopped operation, according to the Guizhou provincial department of transport.

Many passengers then turned to trains. Figures from the railway station in Guiyang, the provincial capital of Guizhou, show that four pairs of extra trains were running on Monday, with 63,580 additional seats.

Yan Fei, 27, a Guizhou computer technician, was among the holiday travelers who bought a railway ticket back home after being stranded for 11 hours in a coach. He took a long-distance bus from Hunan to Guizhou at about 1 pm on Saturday but was stranded near the provincial border.

"The glass was frozen. The coach's windshield wipers were frozen to the glass," he said. "I was lucky to ride in a coach with beds, and I grabbed quilts from unoccupied beds to wrap my body in overnight."

Yan said after he was kept on the bus for 11 hours, he got off the bus and managed to get to the railway station in the nearest county and bought a rail ticket.

He said he talked to other passengers on the train and found they all got onboard from areas bordering Guizhou and Hunan provinces after the road traffic paralyzed.

The bad weather also caused the death of Zhu Qing, a traffic officer in Guizhou, who died on Saturday after being hit by a truck while on duty to evacuate the stranded vehicles on the Shanghai-Kunming Highway.

Weather to continue

The Ministry of Public Security on Monday also dispatched three inspection teams to Guizhou, Guangxi and Hunan.

"The priority at present is to evacuate all stranded vehicles on the road before a new round of sleet hits the region on Tuesday," said Huang Ming, vice-minister of public security.

The National Meteorological Center issued a yellow freezing warning on Monday morning, the first such kind this year. Yang Guiming, chief forecaster with the center, said such a warning means at least three provinces, municipalities or autonomous regions in the past 24 hours have been hit by freezing weather conditions, which are expected to continue.

The center forecast that central and western Guizhou, as well as southern Hunan, will still see freezing rain in the coming three days, and temperatures in and around Guizhou in the next 10 days will be 2 C to 4 C lower than usual.

The cold weather has also exerted a negative impact on power transmission. China Southern Power Grid initiated a top-level alert against icy weather on Saturday, and turned on de-icing facilities for major power lines in Guizhou.

The local government in Guiyang has also issued an urgent notice to curb unreasonable price hikes caused by the icy weather. The prices of some vegetables, such as cabbage and lettuce, had doubled overnight by Sunday morning in many farm markets in Guiyang because of transport difficulties, according to local media reports.

Huang Feifei contributed to this story.