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China pledges to end hardship for stranded travelers

Source:Reuters.com Author:John Ruwitch Date:03/25/14 Click:

GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - China has turned its battle against brutal winter weather into a propaganda push to comfort millions of cold and stranded citizens, even as officials warned on Thursday that storms will continue lashing many areas.

Snow, sleet and ice blanketing much of central, eastern and southern China have killed dozens, cut power and hobbled transport, stranding people trying to get home for the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts next Wednesday.

The main railway station in Guangzhou remained crammed with many tens of thousands of travelers, most of them poor migrant workers who have waited days for trains home for the big holiday, also called Spring Festival.

For many, it is their only family reunion of the year.

As the Communist Party government seeks to clear the transport chaos and ship food and coal to stricken areas, it is also engaged in a widely-televised campaign to tell citizens it can effectively handle the country's hardships -- including this disaster -- and prevent public dismay from turning into unrest.

"After 30 years of reform and opening up, we've accumulated a strong material foundation and as long as we're vigorously organized, we will be fully able to vanquish the current hardship," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told officials in Guangzhou on Wednesday, according to Xinhua news agency.

Wen visited stranded travelers in central China and then in Guangzhou, with state television repeatedly showing him apologizing for the disruption and comforting citizens.

Television has also showed thousands of People's Liberation Army troops busily chipping ice from highways and hauling blankets and coats to residents stuck in snow for many days.

Even in the middle of disaster, Chinese officials' capacity to instantly issue statistics has not slowed. The Ministry of Civil Affairs has estimated that by Tuesday direct economic losses from the harsh weather amounted to 32.7 billion yuan ($4.5 billion).

Officials have said more trains will begin leaving in the next day or two as power is restored, allowing some paralyzed electric trains to move on, the Xinhua reported. Trucks stuck on icy highways are also beginning to slowly move.

But the national weather forecaster said on Thursday that snow and sleet will continue to hit parts of central, eastern and southern provinces over the next 10 days.

At least 55 people have died, including 25 on Tuesday in a bus crash on an icy mountain road.

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