Weather forecasters are predicting more bad winter weather for central and southern China, and tens of millions have been affected. Beijing has escaped the extreme winter despite its northerly location, but VOA's Stephanie Ho reports that the human and economic effects are still being felt in the capital.
With just a few days left before the biggest holiday in the Chinese calendar, the Lunar New Year, shoppers strolled up and down Beijing's Wangfujing Street Saturday. It was cold, but the skies were clear and sunny.
An elderly Chinese man, who refused to give his name, dismissed questions about whether Beijing residents are feeling any negative effects of the snowstorms.
There has been no real impact on Beijing, he says. The bad weather has mostly affected transportation.
Heavy snow in the usually temperate south, central and eastern parts of the country has thrown the train network into chaos, stranding millions of people who are trying to return home for the holiday. The snow and ice have affected electricity lines, cutting off power for millions more. The bad weather also is exacerbating the effects of a coal shortage, triggering a serious power crisis for the country.
Chinese leaders are working hard to show their concern. Premier Wen Jiabao visited Hunan province for the second time in a week. He urged local officials to redouble their efforts to restore basic services.
The government has mobilized hundreds of thousands of soldiers for relief work. The Commerce Ministry is releasing 18,000 tons of pork from its reserves to meet demand ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. It also promised to ease shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Back on Beijing's Wangfujing Street, Wang Haiyan is shopping with her young son and mother-in-law. She says the biggest problem for Beijing residents since the snowstorms is that many things, especially foodstuffs, have become expensive.
"I don't see much difference in terms of the selection, but in terms of the price, there's a lot of difference. It's much higher, of course," she said.
Wang says food always becomes more expensive just before the Lunar New Year, which begins February 7. This year, though, she says she thinks the snows are helping push prices higher.
But if Beijing is getting off lightly, Wang says her mother lives in the southern province of Guizhou, which has been "severely impacted" by the harsh winter weather.
"My mother, they have difficulty going out because it's very slippery walking on the ice. And they have no electricity for a few days, no water supply," said Wang.
Wang adds that for people like her mother who rely on electricity to power their heaters, the nights, especially, are "really cold."