Tens of millions of travellers were making last-ditch efforts to rush home for Lunar New Year's Eve reunion dinners today, even as heavy snow was falling across seven provinces.
The National Meteorological Centre yesterday issued its first snow warning for the year, covering Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, Gansu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi and Shanxi . It said the bad weather would continue until today, with the southern part of Hunan being hit by heavy falls.
With freezing rain affecting Guizhou province, central Hunan and central Jiangxi, highways and railways in the northwest and the southern part of the country would be affected, the centre said.
'From New Year's Eve ... many places in the country will be hit by plunging temperatures, with some places receiving heavy snow,' it warned. 'Everyone must make preparations to have enough clothes and take other measures for flu when returning home or going outside to set off fireworks.'
At least 10 airports in the northeast were forced to close on Thursday and Friday because of snow and thick fog, while more than 10 highways in Shanxi, Hebei and Shandong provinces were also cut, causing many to switch from buses to trains.
The Ministry of Railways said the number of passengers had swelled suddenly since Thursday after many travellers flocked to railway stations to head home after their flights and buses were cancelled. In Xian, the capital city of Shaanxi, the railway bureau put on 10 extra trains between Thursday and today.
Other provinces hit by snow or ice storms have similar crisis management plans in a bid to avoid a repeat of the chaos when a massive cold spell hit southern and central China in 2008, crippling transport systems and stranding millions.
The Ministry of Railways and the Ministry of Public Security estimates that 235 million passengers will travel home by train, with a further 284 million taking long-distance buses over the 40-day travel season.
The holiday officially lasts seven days but many migrant workers take off up to a month. Authorities in Guangzhou have recruited 20,000 volunteers to maintain order at the city's 15 main long-distance bus terminals over the holiday period.
Meanwhile, in his New Year speech to the nation, Premier Wen Jiabao said the central government would strive to boost the economy and stabilise prices while narrowing the rich-poor gap.
'In the New Year, we are going to face bigger challenges,' Wen said.
The number of volunteers recruited by the Guangzhou authorities to maintain order at the city's 15 main long-distance bus terminals