My horror car trip from Shanghai to Changsha
It was dark, cold and drizzle kept coming down.
The road was slippery. Ice, several centimetres thick, had covered the entire highway, forcing the traffic to a crawl. Drivers had to measure every move to avoid crashing.
The going was as slow as it was tortuous.
Driving slowly, however, did not guarantee a smooth passage.
The road was often too slippery for the drivers to have full control over their vehicles. All around, I saw cars slipping and sliding.
Several times, the car carrying me from Shanghai to Hunan came within a hair's breadth of crashing into other vehicles. My heart was in my throat as the car bumped up and down over the rough road.
That was the situation as I entered Hunan around 6am yesterday.
From the border, it took us another painfully slow five hours to reach the provincial capital, Changsha , our final destination.
The journey began on Wednesday afternoon.
I got into a car and left Shanghai at 4pm, after a morning spent in a frantic but fruitless search for an air ticket to the province worst-hit by the snowstorms.
We hired two experienced drivers so we could continue driving day and night as long as the conditions permitted.
Without knowing what lay ahead - except that the Beijing-Zhuhai Highway was completely blocked - we decided to try the alternative route by taking the Shanghai-Yunnan Highway.
Things started unexpectedly well. No snow, no rain and no traffic jams.
But our luck soon ran out. Midway through Zhejiang province , rain started coming down and the temperature nosedived. It was getting colder and wetter as we moved on.
The situation at the Zhejiang and Jiangxi border was chaotic. Anxious drivers and passengers lined up at toll booths shouted at each other, arguing who should go first.
The situation worsened as we moved closer to Hunan. The road also became crowded.
Buses carrying people eager to return home for the Lunar New Year were everywhere. Trucks carrying food and other goods crawled forward.
We met a woman whose truck broke down because of the bumpy road. She and her husband had waited in the cold for nearly 12 hours without getting any help. Eventually, her husband headed to the city to buy equipment to repair the truck, leaving her to look after the vehicle.
Standing in the biting cold wind, hundreds more people like her were waiting in silence. Nobody could see an end to the long wait.
Several times, the car ... came within a hair's breadth of crashing into other vehicles. My heart was in my throat