War on Snow

Yesterday the Chinese government declared war on the snow.  Here’s the scoop.  Over the past two weeks southern China has been hit by freakish weather.  And when I say freakish, I mean freakish, that is to say blizzards and ice storms.  Now where I come from (Minnesota) blizzards and ice storms are not considered freak weather, here we’re talking about southern China, basically from the Yangtze River (and a bit north of it) on south to Guangdong Province.  Shanghai and Nanjing got a foot of snow.  Most of Anhui Province is buried under snow.  Heavy snow fell in Wuhan, Changsha, Nanchang, and Guizhou.  To give you an idea of how bizarre this is, it would be something akin to American cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, New Orleans, and maybe Tallahassee getting a foot of snow. it just doesn’t happen. Since this weather system has hit some of China’s most populated (and poorest) regions during the height of the pre-Chinese New Year travel rush, which normally sees 178 million people travel during the week, what has unfolded is a disaster of epic proportions.

Just consider some of the statistics that are being reported:
*79 million people affected
*60 deaths
*5.8 million people stranded on or waiting for trains
*at one point earlier in the week, it was estimated that there were 800,000 people stranded at the railway station in Guangzhou–almost all migrant workers trying to go home for the holiday
*8000 cargo trains halted (these carry the bulk of China’s food and coal)
*complete shut-down of the Beijing-Guangzhou rail line
*$7.5 billion worth of damage (power grids, crops, etc.)
*1 entire city in Hunan has been without power or water for 8 days
*350,000 troops mobilized to help with disaster relief
*1.7 million people evacuated
*the beginnings of power and food shortages

As with most numbers related to China, it really is difficult to wrap one’s brain around all that.  One thing that has been particularly interesting to watch is the media coverage of the disaster.  Whereas the media in US would be in red-faced, manic, full-throated screeching mode on how bad things are and how every government official from the president on down is personally responsible, the opposite happens here.  Since all media outlets are by, extension, the communications department of the government and party, here the stories are all about  what a wonderful job the leaders are doing, and how isn’t it wonderful that the party is there for the masses, and the TV screens are filled with images showing the heroics of the party, military, and government leaders (all one in the same, mind you) handing out food and blankets and honoring as martyrs workers killed trying to restore power to darkened cities.  Quite frankly, I find both extremes of coverage a bit hard to take, because we all know that the truth is somewhere in the middle, at a distance very far from either of these extremes.  But the leaders here know their history—-dynasties have often risen or fallen on the backs of national disasters.  It was something called the mandate of heaven.

And in Beijing the weather is the same day in and day out:  Sunny and 35 degrees (f).

For some captivating photos, go here.