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Snow in China strands hundreds of thousands

Tue., Jan. 29, 2008

GUANGZHOU, China – Snow and ice storms have stranded hundreds of thousands of people – most of them migrant workers hoping to leave for the Chinese New Year – and more blizzards threatened Monday to wreck what for many is a rare chance to see family.

The government, scrambling Monday to prevent riots among the crowds that have swelled daily since the storms began Jan. 10, offered temporary shelter in schools and convention centers. Hundreds of police and soldiers were posted around the train station.

Frustrated in their efforts to return home, migrant travelers created small camps of suitcases in the mud outside the train station.

Li Moming, a construction worker among the 500,000 people stuck in the main southern city of Guangzhou, wore a mud-splattered pinstriped suit for a homecoming that might not happen. He spent the night on the street in a cold drizzle. The train to his village in central Henan province, 20 hours away, was canceled. He might have to spend the holiday at his work site instead.

“What can you do?” he said. “It’s the weather. It’s nobody’s fault. You can’t control the weather.”

Chinese New Year begins Feb. 7, when the train station will start to sell tickets again, radio reports said. State-run newspapers ran headlines urging the migrants not to travel. But for many, the New Year – China’s most festive holiday – is the only chance for months to visit their families, and they stay away for weeks.

Many workers were stoic, accustomed to the huge crowds, discomforts and long delays that are common for China’s poor. But others fought among themselves while trying to board long-delayed trains during the busiest travel season of the year.

The government pledged Monday to increase the output of gasoline, coal and power to ease shortages.


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