The China Meteorological Administration said a number of the worst affected provinces in central, eastern and southern China were in for several more days of snow and freezing rain.

Electricity shortages

Some cities have been without electricity for more than a week after the snowstorms snapped power lines and aggravated the impact of a coal shortage that has forced some power plants to shut down.

In video


Melissa Chan reports on the Chinese struggling to cope with the weather

"We will strive to partially restore electricity supply in Chenzhou on Saturday," Yin Jijun, an official with China's national grid, said.

A woman in the city Hunan province told the AFP news agency that the city of four million had been without electricity or running water for more than a week.
  
"We light candles for dinner, burn coal for heating, and get water from wells. Then we use the remaining heat after cooking to  warm up the water for our baths," she said.

Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, visited Hunan province on Friday for the second time in a week.

State television showed Wen telling officials to redouble their efforts to restore basic services.

The premier told his cabinet that officials at all levels had to do more solid work "to ensure economic and social stability" in the face of the disaster, Xinhua reported.

Transport chaos

Prices of vegetables in particular are rising sharply because of transport chaos.

With inflation already near an 11-year high, officials are worried about the potential for unrest.

The government estimates that 223,000 houses have been toppled by snow or ice and 862,000 damaged across the country.

The snow has disrupted the 2.2bn journeys
made in China over Lunar New Year [AFP]
Miners are working overtime and the railways are giving priority to coal shipments to alleviate the country's most serious power crisis ever.

About 8,000 freight trains have been disrupted in the past week as toppled power lines and icy rails crippled the rail network.

Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan in Beijing said that the timing of the disaster had affected the government's response to the crisis.

"It is the largest migration of human beings that takes place during this two week period," she said.

"You see about 200 million train journeys take place during this time and about 2.2 billion journeys in total ... suddenly you have these snowstorms and you have got an overwhelming situation in China"

Nearly six million passengers have been stranded on trains or in railway stations, officials estimate.

Many of them were migrant workers for whom the Lunar New Year is the only chance of the year to see their families.

The government has put the immediate economic losses of the crisis at about $7.5bn.