China: Snowstorms spoil Lunar New Year travel for millions

Cars are stuck on a highway due to heavy snow in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province
Image caption,The bitter cold is getting in the way of people’s plans to reunite with their families to ring in the Lunar New Year

By Kelly Ng

BBC News

Snowstorms and freezing rain have disrupted transportation in large parts of China as millions of people travel for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Hundreds of flights and train services have been cancelled while motorists have been stranded on frozen highways for days.

The holiday sets off the “largest annual human migration” as millions in China travel to their hometowns.

Travel has also picked up after Covid-19 curbs were lifted over a year ago.

Authorities expect 480 million trips to be made for the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival. The volume is 40% higher compared to the previous year.

China’s meteorological service has warned of the worst winter weather since 2008. The country’s central region – including provinces like Hebei, Hubei, and Anhui – has borne the brunt of the freezing conditions.

On social media, Chinese people said the bitter cold spoiled their plans to reunite with family. They posted pictures of themselves stranded in trains and railway stations as power lines were cut.

The Lunar New Year falls on 10 February, a Saturday.

“When Spring Festival coincides with a snowstorm: Residents could not leave the city of Wuhan three years ago [because of the Covid-19 outbreak]. Now, three years later, we can’t get into it,” according to a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. The X user posted a video showing a packed railway station which had lines of people stuck on escalators because it was too crowded for them to move.

Some users thanked those who braved the cold to deliver food and hot water to commuters stuck on the icy roads. One clip showed a lady in Xiantao, a city in Hubei province, using a pulley system to refill water bottles of those stranded on the highway. “You can just put your bottle in the basket. There is no need to pay,” she said.

Passengers wait for their train at Hongqiao railway station in Shanghai on January 20, 2023
Image caption,The annual Spring Festival holiday sets off the world’s biggest human migration as millions return to their hometowns

Some 255 cities across the country have seen days when average daily temperatures fall below 0C, far exceeding the conditions of previous years.

Nearly 100 highway toll stations in Anhui have blocked cars from entering because of icy conditions. On Monday, state broadcaster CCTV reported that 4,000 vehicles were stuck on the roads.

One person died and 13 others were injured in a city in Hunan province on Monday after a roof collapsed due to heavy snowfall at a local market.

China’s central government said it would disburse 141m yuan ($20m; £15.6m) to fund urgent snow removal on highways and related work in 11 provinces, CCTV said.

The freezing weather is expected to abate soon, with authorities lifting the most severe blizzard warning on Wednesday. Snow will continue in south and central China, but the weather is expected to turn warmer by Friday, according to reports.

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