Thousands of migrant workers have seen their travel plans ruined by the bad weather [Reuters]

Around 500,000 travellers have been stranded at the main train station in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou after heavy snows cut rail links with much of the rest of the country.

 

The cancellations come as China's transport network gears up for the busiest travel period of the year over the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.

 

On Tuesday the heavy snows and icy conditions were also blamed for the deaths of at least 25 people, killed when the bus they were travelling in skidded off the road.

 

The crash in the southern province of Guizhou brings the number of deaths caused by days of winter weather to more than 50.

 

At the same time the bitter conditions are also straining China's energy supplies, with power stations running low on coal and many parts of the country already suffering periodic blackouts.

 

Snow and ice has brought down power lines, while officials say disruption to rail services means that less than 25 per cent of normal coal supplies are getting through to where it is needed.

 

Members of the military have been called
in to help clear the snow [Reuters]
On Tuesday Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, travelled from Beijing to personally oversee relief efforts, but his own travel plans were hit by the weather.

 

Wen had planned to fly to the hard-hit province of Hunan, but his aircraft was forced to divert to neighbouring Hubei province before continuing his journey by train.

 

In Guangzhou members of the People's Liberation Army have been deployed around the city's main station amid fears that rising tensions among stranded travellers could turn violent.

 

Guangzhou is the capital of China's economic powerhouse province of Guangdong, home to thousands of factories using cheap labour from across the country.

 

For many of the millions of migrant labourers working in Guangdong and elsewhere in the country, the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday is the only break they get and the only chance to see their families.

 

On Tuesday however there were signs that many travellers were giving up after days of waiting and abandoning their holiday plans.

 

Railway officials had earlier taken the rare step of announcing full cash refunds for cancelled services.

 

The government has said it will be several days before services return to normal, but thousands of travellers continued to camp out in the cold drizzle in front of the station.

 

Over the Lunar New Year period, travellers are expected to make some 2.3 billion journeys.

 

Meanwhile forecasters have warned that more heavy snows and icy conditions are on the way.

Source: Agencies