The worst of the winter weather seems to have passed. The China Meteorological Administration has lifted its extreme winter weather alert three weeks after the start of the worst snow and ice storms since 1954.
A vast area of southern and central China was blanketed in snow and ice, disrupting power and transport and stranding millions ahead of the lunar New Year holiday. Xinhua says that power had been restored to 162 counties, including the city of Chenzhou in Hunan province, which was without power and running water for almost two weeks. Hunan, like many of the worst hit parts of country rarely experiences such severe winters and has little capacity to clear ice and snow.
Now begins the clean-up, physical and political. At least the year of the rat – a year for hard work and renewal — restarts the calendar. Gung Hei Fat Choy
With southern and central China still in the grip of its most severe winter since 1954, more snow and ice on the way and relief efforts struggling to keep up with the scale of the relief work, Beijing says it will keep coal mines working over lunar New Year.
Three quarters of China’s 862 biggest mines will scrap their customary holiday. The aim is to run at 85% of normal production to ease the widespread power shortages that have left millions shivering in the dark and shuttered factories and mills.
However, small mines that are being closed under a multiyear campaign to reduce mine accidents, will not be allowed to reopen despite the coal shortages.
The worst snow storms in half a century have shown up the fragility of the country’s infrastructure, particularly for transport and power generation.
In 14 provinces in east, southern and central China, roads and railways have been overwhelmed, unable to move the estimated 179 million people expected to be traveling for New Year or to carry the coal needed by power stations. Two weeks of ice and snow have also brought down power lines, leading to black outs in many cities and the closing of mines, factories and businesses, and the destruction of crops. That in turn has created shortages that are stoking inflation, already high and politically sensitive.
Despite putting 450,000 troops to relief work, the leadership initially underestimated the severity and longevity of the bad weather and was slow to respond. With millions of people still stuck in temporary shelters, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao belatedly visiting affected areas, this is stating to feel politically a lot like Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. did for the Bush administration.