Hunan, like many of the usually more temperate parts of China, has little experience with snow with local authorities lacking winter equipment and many houses poorly insulated.

 

The provincial weather bureau has forecast more snow for Monday and Tuesday, although forecast rain in other parts of the country may help to melt the snow.

 
In the commercial capital, Shanghai, hundreds of thousands of travellers have begun to stream out of the city after days of backlog at rail and bus stations.
 

Meanwhile rail services in Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong province, began to return to normal, providing some relief to hundreds of thousands of stranded travellers.

 

Authorities said their priority was to clear the backlog of people still waiting at the city's main railway station, having cajoled millions of migrant workers to stay put and skip what for many is their only chance each year to visit family.

 

For many workers the New Year holiday is
the only chance to see family all year [AFP]
Mobilising the might of the state, China has deployed more than 300,000 troops and nearly 1.1 million militia and army reservists to get traffic moving and ensure power supplies.

 

Often going by foot and using little more than shovels, they have spent days clearing the snow, metre by metre.

 

In other cases Xinhua reported marksmen fired sub-machine guns at power lines to blast off ice, while soldiers used tanks to clear the build-up of snow.

 

Despite the effort, more than 10,000 vehicles were backed up in a line more than 75km long on an icy section of an expressway in Hunan on Sunday.

 

But the transportation nightmare has not been the only problem, with food and coal supplies affected and blizzards knocking out power and running water in some places.

 

Power and fuel

 

Crushes from the mass of travellers have
caused injuries and at least one death [AFP]
The government is now turning its efforts to restoring power and water supplies and the State Council, China's cabinet, has ordered stepped-up work to repair power equipment.

 

Officials said that more than 80 per cent of state-owned coal mines that normally use the weeklong holiday to cut production so equipment repairs can be made and their workers can go home will run at full steam.

 

Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Meteorological Administration, blamed the La Nina phenomenon and "abnormal atmospheric circulation" for the storms, Xinhua said.

 

The unusually cold and harsh winter weather is now in its fourth week, throttling the country's densely populated central and eastern regions as tens of millions of travellers scramble to board trains and buses to return home for the Chinese New Year holiday.

 

At least 60 people have been killed, mostly in traffic accidents.

 

Li Hongxia, a factory worker, was killed in a stampede to get on a train when frustration boiled over on Saturday among passengers stranded at the Guangzhou railway station.