Premier Wen Jiabao rushed Tuesday to oversee disaster relief efforts as China's leadership scrambled to limit the impact of the most brutal winter weather to hit the nation for half a century.
|Teenagers play with snow in front of the Pudong financial district in Shanghai after heavy snowfall hit the city, January 29|
The snowfalls and freezing temperatures across China have left dozens dead, paralyzed infrastructure and power supplies in some areas and hit millions of people trying to return home for the main holiday of the year.
A total of 77.9 million people have been affected by the weather which has covered a swathe of China stretching from Xinjiang in the northwest to Fujian in the southeast, various state newspapers reported.
Wen traveled to Changsha, capital of the central province of Hunan which has been particularly badly hit, where he consulted with senior officials on how to combat the ice and snow and improve relief efforts.
His journey underlined the extent of the problem -- he flew out of Beijing on Monday but had to land at an airport in the neighboring province of Hubei because of the weather in Hunan, finally reaching Changsha by train.
"The major task for Hunan is to remove ice. Only with the ice gone, can electric power lines and railway networks be safeguarded," Wen told state television from his plane.
"Major power plants and the south-north railway should also be the focus of our work."
President Hu Jintao, in a telephone call to the Communist Party leader of Hunan, called for a concerted effort to get on top of the conditions.
"The entire province should act as one and fight with determination to ensure the safety of the people and achieve complete victory in the battle against natural disaster," Hu was quoted as saying by Hunan Daily.
Early Tuesday, a bus overturned on an icy express route and rolled down a 40-metre (130-foot) embankment in southwest China's Guizhou province, killing 25 and injuring 13, the government reported.
That toll was on top of at least 24 other fatalities blamed on the weather conditions in the world's most populous nation.
The extreme weather has forced an estimated 827,000 people to be evacuated to safer places following the destruction of 107,000 homes, according to the China Daily.
The weather has also disrupted travel plans for tens of millions of Chinese striving to return home for the Lunar New Year, which falls in early February this time.
The situation is particularly severe in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, a province in southern China whose export-oriented industries employ millions of migrants workers -- many of whom were hoping to get out before the festival.
Tens of thousands were gathered in or around Guangzhou train station, with little prospect of being able to leave any time soon, as the southern part of the crucial rail line to Beijing had been knocked out by the snow.
Similar scenes have been played out in China's largest city Shanghai, after authorities cancelled all long-distance train travel, leaving 30,000 stranded at stations.
Nearly 50,000 people were stranded in the Hunan section of a key expressway from Beijing to the southern coast of the Chinese mainland.
The mass-circulation China Daily suggested in an editorial that part of the havoc that had caught most regions woefully under prepared was man-made.
"The affected provinces and regions, where temperatures are usually moderate at this time of the year, were caught off-guard. Little did they expect such prolonged snowfalls. The unpreparedness has apparently added to the chaos," it said.
"Those who have done a good job in building a strong team of officials, and have laid a solid foundation in every aspect of their work, will have less difficulty in mobilizing resources to reduce inconvenience, and keep losses to a minimum."