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January 21, 2011

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Shanghai shivers as a blanket of snow causes travel chaos

SNOW blanketed Shanghai yesterday causing problems for travelers. Drivers struggled on the icy roads while hundreds of flights were grounded and rail, bus and ferry services were affected.

The city's two airports suffered their worst disruption since the 2008 snowstorm with tens of thousands of air travelers stranded from early morning after flights were delayed or canceled.

"I have had my breakfast and lunch at the airport," said a passenger surnamed Han. "I do not want my dinner also here."

Han said his flight to Shandong Province had been delayed for most of the morning. And he had been told the flight was likely to be cancelled.

Behind Han there was a long queue of people waiting to change flights or have their tickets refunded.

Tempers were strained with some angry passengers shouting at airline staff, complaining about the delays.

"I have already finished check-in together with my luggage," one man said. "But why I am still here and there is no information of boarding?"

By late yesterday, more than 520 flights, domestic and international, had been delayed at Hongqiao and Pudong airports because of the weather. It is estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 passengers had been caught up in the chaos.

Gao Zhengfu, an airport official who supervises safety operations, said the runways at both airports were still open. "The delays happened as the snow on the planes needed to be cleared and removed," said Gao.

The airport authority said last night that most of the stranded travelers would be on their flights before midnight.

Bad weather also affected airports outside Shanghai, including those in Nanjing, Hangzhou, Changsha and Hefei cities, airport officials said.

"With no other better choices," said Han. "I will take long-distance buses."

However, what Han did not know then was that long-distance bus services from Shanghai also suffered serious cancellations.

About 620 long-distance bus services were canceled at the city's two major bus stations after snow had closed expressways. Tens of thousands of passengers had to be given ticket refunds.

But after temporary shutdowns and speed limits on two expressways early yesterday morning, all the local highways were open to traffic by late yesterday.

Railways were let off lightly with just a few trains delayed for about half an hour. Speed restrictions were in force on high-speed routes to Nanjing and Hangzhou.

Traffic authorities issued road safety warnings yesterday and imposed speed limits.

Conditions on the roads meant drivers had to reduce their speed to avoid accidents, and one told Shanghai Daily he had been "forced into a traffic violation" because of the difficulty of controlling his vehicle.

"I stepped on the brakes about 10 meters from a red light but the car just slid through the crosswalk, causing me a 200 yuan violation," he said, recalling his morning commute.

He said he had kept under 40kph throughout the morning drive and other drivers were also being very careful.

It took him more than two hours to drive from his home in the city's northeast Yangpu District to his office in Xujiahui, more than double the usual time needed for the journey.

Some ferry services to local islands were closed, and more than 80 international vessels, including ocean freighters and passenger cruise ships, had to alter their plans.

By yesterday evening, traffic authorities had reported no serious road accidents.

Almost 5,000 local construction sites were ordered to stop work on high buildings to prevent accidents.

The health bureau said doctors set up medical treatment centers at local railway stations yesterday, offering help to the huge crowds of train travelers delayed by the weather.


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