Freezing rain, snow and ice have snarled traffic in central, eastern and southern China as millions of people travel home ahead of the Spring Festival holiday in the blistering cold that has swept through parts of the country over the past week.
Southern Hunan and central Hubei provinces bore the brunt of the severe weather, which deteriorated over the weekend, slowing highway traffic to a crawl, cancelling hundreds of trains and delaying flights.
The disruptions coincide with the biggest mass travel migration in the world as people across the country flock home to see their families for the Chinese New Year holiday, which officially begins on Saturday.
Over the past few days, videos across Chinese social media showed images of people stranded on trains and trapped in cars on snowy highways in several cities, including Jingzhou in the south of Hubei.
One driver was trapped in a car for three days, media outlet Yicai reported, and passengers heading for Wuhan, to the east of Jingzhou, were stuck on a train for hours after power was lost amid freezing temperatures, social media videos showed.
Hundreds of trains were delayed or suspended, and throngs of passengers stranded at railway stations in Wuhan, local media said. Runways at the Tianhe Airport in Wuhan were temporarily closed Tuesday, state media CCTV reported.
At least two people have died in snow-related accidents. One person in Hubei and another from Hunan were killed as awnings in farmers markets collapsed under heavy snow, according to state media reports.
China’s Ministry of Emergency Management and two other government departments sent 20,000 disaster relief supply items to Hunan, including thick quilts, according to the China Daily.
The severe weather is expected for another few days, according to China National Emergency Broadcasting. Several cities upgraded weather advisories and emergency response plans.
Provinces including Hubei are clearing ice off power lines, state media reported. Authorities in Hubei said they were clearing out tunnels and bridges, where thick ice has caused choke points.
The province has instructed hundreds of highway toll stations to enforce traffic control measures, including letting vehicles through for free.
China’s ministry of finance and ministry of transport issued 141 million yuan ($19.6 million) to support 11 provinces and municipalities for highway snow and ice removal.
China’s Central Meteorological Observatory predicted more rain, snow and freezing weather in the south for the first half of this week, but said conditions would improve starting Thursday.