January 8, 2009 / 9:27 AM / 11 years ago

Freezing China warns of repeat of New Year gridlock

(Adds details, transport official comments, paragraphs 7, 9-11)

BEIJING, Jan 8 (Reuters) - China is preparing to tackle paralysed roads and railways if icy weather seizes the south and centre in a possible repeat of last year’s gridlock just as millions head home for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The prospect of millions of migrant workers stuck in Guangdong and other big manufacturing provinces is especially worrisome this year amid the global financial crisis.

State media have warned the abrupt economic slowdown could leave crowds of jobless and angry rural migrants milling around cities. And a transport shutdown would intensify those worries.

Freezing rains and snow over past days have blocked some roads in the south, and officials have been ordered to brace for spreading harsh weather.

"Fully prepare for responding to and handling freezing weather with icy rain and snow," the Ministry of Public Security ordered police, according to Xinhua news agency.

Early last year, unusually icy weather hit stretches of the southern half, trapping millions of workers heading home for the Lunar New Year holiday and choking off power and transportation in regions that produce much of China’s food and exports.

Chaotic scenes of tens of thousands of frustrated workers stranded at railway stations and whole cities plunged into darkness from power cuts for days on end prompted criticism of the ruling Communist Party’s disaster recovery and a rare public apology from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Highways in Hunan and Hubei provinces have again been disrupted by snow and ice in past days, the China News Service reported. Many parts of Henan, Anhui and Guizhou provinces had also been hit.

This year may not see a full repeat of last year’s sweeping freeze. But Chinese transport officials on Thursday sought to reassure travellers that authorities had learnt hard lessons from the previous year.

"We gained a lot of experience from last year’s freezing weather disaster," Xu Yahua, deputy director of road transport within China’s Transport Ministry, told an online broadcast on the central government website (www.gov.cn).

"In normal circumstances, we cannot blithely close roads, as they will become iced up, which is bad for road safety... If the snow and ice is especially severe, however, we will stop some road trips, as this will affect travellers’ transport safety," Xu said. (Reporting by Chris Buckley and Ian Ransom; Editing by Ken Wills)



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