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Winter Weather Wreaks New Havoc in China

Trains began running again in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, but the number of people stranded in train stations and highways, or otherwise affected by the country's severe winter weather, is in the tens of millions. New snowfalls were reported in Central China Friday, and parts of the country are reported to be down to only a few days' worth of coal to fuel power plants. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

The disaster caused by severe winter weather in China continues to grow. Officials say at least 60 people have died from weather-related causes around the country. Millions are stranded in trains or train stations, or on ice-bound highways. Planes have been grounded.

The heavy snowfalls have also disrupted the transportation of coal and food around the country, just as the weather has increased demand for power. Electricity lines are iced over and power service has been interrupted.

The heaviest snow in decades began falling in central, eastern and southern China two weeks ago.

Chinese leaders have been scrambling to show that the government is working hard to help its people. In the latest high-profile appearance, President Hu Jintao went to the coalfields in Shanxi province Thursday to urge greater production.

At a news conference Friday, the National Development and Reform Commission's Zhu Hongren announced the establishment of a new Emergency Management Command Center. He says the center's main priority will be to coordinate national disaster relief efforts among 23 government agencies and departments. The center also aims to coordinate the supply of essential items, such as coal, electricity and oil.

The storms are worsening the effects of a coal shortage that has already shuttered power plants and forced steel plants to cut production.

Zhu acknowledged that the weather disaster has taken a toll on the Chinese economy. But he says the negative effects will be short term.

The storm hit at a particularly bad time. Millions of Chinese are trying to return home to celebrate the country's biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, which begins February 7.

The official says the authorities are trying to enable stranded passengers get home as early as possible. But he acknowledged that the weather is hampering these efforts.

Zhu urges local governments to ensure that migrant workers have a good holiday even if they cannot return home.

Initial estimates are that the disaster will cost China $7.5 billion (54 billion RMB). On Friday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported one of the first foreign donations: former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk, who maintains a residence in Beijing, has donated $50,000 to disaster relief efforts.