Weather turns bad as back-home travel peaks

Updated: 2012-01-19 08:50

By Xin Dingding and Ma Lie (China Daily)

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Fog strands 14,000 at Xi'an airport; snow and rain expected nationwide

BEIJING/XI'AN - This year's annual travel rush, which will go into full swing in the next three days, will encounter bad weather, and the road home could be a tough one for many heading to Spring Festival family reunions.

Heavy fog on Wednesday stranded more than 14,000 passengers at the Xi'an Xianyang International Airport in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, where visibility was reduced to less than 100 meters.

Weather turns bad as back-home travel peaks

Passengers stranded by heavy fog wait on Wednesday at the Xi'an Xianyang International Airport in Northwest China's Shaanxi province. [Photo/China Daily]

Airport authorities said the dense fog grounded more than 200 flights since Wednesday morning. By 6 pm, 47 flights in and out of Xi'an had been canceled.

With air tickets sold out during the travel rush, many passengers whose flights were canceled found themselves in a predicament.

Xu Ning, a 30-year-old Xi'an native trapped in Shanghai Pudong International Airport since noon, said if he could not find a ticket to Xi'an, he would not be able to spend Spring Festival eve with his family.

"The airport staff told us that we could choose between endlessly waiting in the airport or rescheduling our flight for one of the next couple of days. But I just found out that tickets for flights to Xi'an later this week were all booked," he said.

Zhang Yao, 28, who arrived with her husband at Beijing Capital International Airport at 3 pm from Belgium, found the flight she planned to take to Xi'an had been canceled.

"We were told we could reschedule, but the earliest flight with available seats is on Jan 23," she said.

That the airport did not make arrangements for stranded passengers, such as free accommodation, made her feel even more frustrated, she said.

Zhang and about 30 other passengers were still waiting for a solution at 6 pm.

The Xi'an airport authority said that as fog began to clear at 2 pm, flights were starting to take off, but it warned of further delays owing to the big backlog of flights.

"We will work all night long today to send as many as passengers as possible on their way, for as long as the weather allows," said Wang Yongjiang, airport duty manager.

For those whose flights were canceled, the airport said it would provide free accommodation in hotels and send 20 buses to bring them.

Shaanxi provincial meteorological observatory issued a fog warning on Wednesday morning and said that the fog could linger until Jan 23, when a strong surge of cold air is expected to arrive.

Fog also halted traffic on highways linking Shaanxi to other provinces, and more than 3,000 passengers were stranded in four long-distance bus stations in the city, before traffic started to move again in the afternoon, the Shaanxi provincial expressway management center said.

Fog also blanketed North China, part of East China and Northwest China, forcing the closure of more than a dozen other expressways on Wednesday.

Some drivers eager to go home lost their lives due to the dense fog.

Weather turns bad as back-home travel peaks

On Tuesday, more than 100 vehicles were involved in a chain collision on the Rongcheng-Wuhai expressway in East China's Shandong province, killing four people and injuring 14, police said.

The fog also caused a bullet train to break down on Wednesday morning, blocking the rail line for five hours.

The Zhengzhou railway bureau said that the train from Beijing to Wuhan lost power at about 7 am on Wednesday and the glitch was related to the fog.

Though the bureau later sent a backup train as a replacement, the incident backed up train traffic on China's busiest railway, linking Beijing and Guangzhou, for nearly five hours, and delayed at least five other trains.

Meteorologists said the travel peak season will be disrupted not only by fog, but also snow and rain, which began on Wednesday and will sweep across the country.

According to the National Meteorological Center, snowfall will spread to a large area from Xinjiang in Northwest China to the coastal province of Shandong in the east.

Meanwhile, regions hit by drizzle or moderate rain will also expand to cover Central China, East China, northern part of South China and Southwest China.

The bad weather is expected to disrupt traffic that will peak in next few days, as millions of Chinese will be on the move for family reunion on Sunday, Lunar New Year's eve.

The Ministry of Transport said that 80 million road trips were made on Wednesday alone.

The Ministry of Railways said that the national rail system handled 5.8 million passenger trips on Tuesday, a number that will only grow in the next three days, with the peak expected on Friday.

The ministry said that emergency plans have been made for bad weather, including preparing 500 diesel locomotives on trunk lines in case weather disrupts the power supply for electric and bullet trains, and putting 1,000 electricity generators on emergency standby.

Shi Yingying in Shanghai, Luo Wangshu in Beijing contributed to this story.