Wen Jiabao

Tempers fray as number stuck in Guangzhou nears 800,000

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2008, 12:00am

The number of rail passengers stranded in Guangzhou because of atrocious weather swelled to nearly 800,000 yesterday - and tempers became increasingly frayed as the wait for trains dragged on.

Police were unable to keep order as thousands rushed to board buses arranged to take them from temporary waiting rooms to Guangzhou railway station.

'They jostled with each other and some even fell down. I am not sure if anyone got hurt in the chaos but the situation is getting worse [in the buildings],' a security guard said, adding that there were 60,000 passengers in the buildings, about six times the number on Sunday.

The railway station had sold 3.58 million tickets for services between January 26 and February 5 before stopping sales on Monday. About 700,000 passengers had left Guangzhou and more than 380,000 had returned their tickets by midday yesterday. This means that up to 2.5 million passengers with tickets may have been stranded in Guangzhou or are on their way to the city.

Premier Wen Jiabao arrived from Changsha yesterday and inspected Guangzhou station. He told passengers the government understood their desire to return home and officials had been working hard to revive the service to Beijing. 'We are working hard to make sure you all can go home and be with your family for the holiday,' he said.

The situation did not greatly improve yesterday, partly because police could not keep their promise to reopen the Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway. Xinhua quoted He Jianzhong , a spokesman for the Ministry of Communications, saying that some provinces had rushed to close highways, and this was to blame for the gridlock.

'The Ministry of Communications will work together with the Ministry of Public Security now to strengthen management of highways and ensure as few closures of highways as possible,' Mr He said.

The Ministry of Public Security said progress was hindered by continuing cold weather and the inability of snow ploughs to reach their destinations.

Additional reporting by Ng Tze-wei