Chenzhou, a city of about 4 million in the hard-hit central province of Hunan, began its eleventh day without power on Tuesday, with residents forced to line up at fire hydrants to collect water.

 

Elsewhere some towns which had been cut off for days by thick ice and hail are now receiving electricity.

 

The army has helped to get transport running
again but millions still have no power [EPA]
However, officials and locals say many villages in the countryside remain without power and are likely to stay that way for days if not weeks.

 

"The situation has been improving with all the outside assistance, but fixing supplies to smaller towns and villages will take a long time," Zhang Xuejiang, an engineer, told Reuters.

 

Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, has expressed confidence that the country will overcome the unusually harsh winter.

 

But that optimism was not shared by farmers Al Jazeera spoke to in rural Hunan, with some saying more than half their vegetable crops had been destroyed by the freezing weather.

 

More storms are forecast for the coming days and farmers – who form the majority of China's massive population – fear they could wipe out their crops completely.

 

Shortage

 

Consumers have had to contend with 
some food prices doubling [AFP]
Reporting from Hunan, Al Jazeera's correspondent Melissa Chan says officials still are not sure what the extent of the damage to winter crops is, but they are worried the entire central region will face a food shortage in the coming months.

 

Already prices for basic staples are reported to be soaring across the country, with crops destroyed and disruption to road and rail transport putting a further squeeze on supply.

 

Many shoppers report prices for pork, rice and vegetables doubling in price since the winter storms hit, or going even higher.

 

The pressure on food supplies signals a further headache for the government as it looks to rein-in already high inflation.