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Wintry Weather Causes Chaos in China

China's leaders are rushing to oversee disaster relief efforts and limit the effects of the most brutal winter weather to hit the nation in decades. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures in China have left dozens of people dead and stranded millions of others trying to return home for the main holiday of the year.

Snow, ice and bitter cold have disrupted power supplies and crippled thousands of trains and trucks loaded with coal and food.

Analysts are predicting the brutal weather will hurt China's economy and could stoke inflation. Paul Tang is chief economist at the Bank of East Asia.

"I think the serious weather has hit the most vulnerable parts of China right now, economically speaking, which is (the) energy and the food sectors," he explained. "Because already we are seeing food prices maintain a very high level in the past few months, and also energy prices begin to rise and has hit households' expense(s)."

China's top leaders are getting personally involved. Premier Wen Jiabao has gone to the southern province of Hunan, which is particularly hard-hit. Chinese President Hu Jintao spoke with Hunan's Communist Party secretary by telephone.

The weather has disrupted plans for tens of millions of Chinese trying to return home for the Lunar New Year, which begins February 7.

Some train travelers at the Beijing West Rail Station say they have been waiting for more than a week to get on a train and return home.

Ms. Xing says she got a ticket, but that it was especially difficult this year because the snowy weather is causing such problems.

The station's spokesman, Yao Hongren, says officials at the train station are aware of people's anxiety.

He says officials are doing everything they can to ensure the trains run in a smooth and orderly manner.

The situation has been particularly severe in the southern city of Guangzhou, where tens of thousands of people are stranded in and around the main train station. The Guangzhou area's export-oriented industries employ millions of migrant workers who are trying to return to their homes in other parts of the country.

Officials in the southern city of Hong Kong say they are coordinating with mainland authorities to ensure that food supplies to the city are not affected by the weather-related transportation problems.

An editorial in the official English-language China Daily newspaper says many of the hardest-hit regions were not adequately prepared for the bad weather, making the chaos worse.