China's heaviest snowstorms in five decades crushed homes, grounded flights, disrupted electricity and left hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded, a week before millions take to the roads for Lunar New Year holidays.
As many as 5 percent of China's coal-fired power plants, which generate 78 percent of electricity, were shut because snow hampered coal shipments, the National Development and Reform Commission said today. Zhuzhou Smelter Group Co., China's largest zinc refiner, said shortages forced it to cut production.
More than a foot (34 centimeters) of snow fell yesterday in Nanjing in the east, the city's heaviest in 50 years, halting air and rail service, in turn delaying a third of ensuing flights in Beijing and Shanghai and throwing national train service into chaos. Military police kept order at the Beijing railway station today, where 400,000 passengers were stranded.
``We face a very severe situation in ensuring supplies of coal, electricity, oil and transportation,'' Zhu Hongren, spokesman for top planning agency the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a press conference today in Beijing. ``The inventory of thermal coal fell due to a combination of energy demand, massive snowstorms and the annual peak Lunar New Year traffic. Early holidays at some coal mines also contributed to the shortage of the fuel.''
The Chinese Lunar New Year holiday runs Feb. 6 to Feb. 12 this year. Travelers will probably make a record 2.17 billion journeys during the period, according to the government.
China's fifth year of power shortages may increase pressure on Premier Wen Jiabao to lift caps on coal, gasoline and electricity prices, undermining efforts to curb the fastest inflation in 11 years. December inflation was 6.5 percent, and the central bank raised interest rates six times last year to curb spending. The government also capped the prices of food and public transport and ordered banks to reduce lending....MOREThe Shanghai Composite Index closed down 7.2%.