Across China, many are beginning to mark the start of the Lunar New Year holiday, lighting fireworks and heading home to gather with family to bring in the Year of the Rat.

The 15-day holiday is traditionally a time for celebration and eating in China and other parts of Asia.

But this year, China's worst winter weather in half a century has cast a cloud over celebrations. Millions of migrant workers remain stranded far away from family as emergency recovery efforts continue.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited China's southeastern Guizhou province Wednesday - his third visit to disaster areas in a little more than a week's time. Mr. Wen assured residents that power would be restored.

China says it has restored power partially or fully to most of the 170 counties across the country that suffered outages during the storms. Officials say scores of people have died in recent weeks in snow-related accidents.

Skies were clearer across most parts of the country today. And China's Central Meteorological Administration has lifted a severe alert for snow and rain.

In a statement on Tuesday, U.S. President Bush sent his greetings to those celebrating the beginning of the Year of the Rat in America and around the globe. Mr. Bush said the Lunar New Year holiday reminds us of the richness of Asian culture, and the significance of its history.

The Year of the Rat is the first animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.