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Motorists ‘trapped for three days’ as China’s big freeze threatens Lunar New Year celebrations

Thousands of motorists in central China have been stranded on highways due to heavy snow that has caused widespread disruption during the annual Lunar New Year travel rush.

Aerial images from Hubei province on Monday night showed extensive traffic jams. Around 4,000 vehicles were stuck on highways, according to provincial officials quoted by state broadcaster CCTV.

According to a report by business outlet Yicai, one driver was trapped in a car for three days.

Hundreds of flights and trains have also been cancelled.

A video posted by Jim yang, a meteorologist at the Chinese Meterological Administration, showed a road buried by snow in Zhangjiajie, a famous scenic spot in Hunan Province.

Vehicles stranded on a snow-covered highway on the outskirts of Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province (AP)
Vehicles stranded on a snow-covered highway on the outskirts of Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province (AP)

Millions of people are travelling across the country to celebrate the Lunar New Year, China’s most important holiday, which will fall on Saturday. Families traditionally gather for dinner the night before.

After three years of Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions, this year was supposed to mark a return to normality.

China’s aviation regulator had scheduled 2,500 extra international flights ahead of the holiday, and transport officials anticipated 480 million rail trips during the 40-day travel surge, a nearly 40 per cent increase from last year.

But two runways were shut at the Wuhan Tianhe Airport on Sunday, leading to the cancellation of more than 200 flights. Mass flight cancellations or delays were also reported at airports in Anhui and Hubei provinces.

Travellers with their luggage walk in the snow as they exit a railway station in Huaibei, in central China’s Anhui province (AP)
Travellers with their luggage walk in the snow as they exit a railway station in Huaibei, in central China’s Anhui province (AP)

China’s national rail operator said many trains were either put out of service or restricted their speeds in Shanghai and parts of Hunan, Hubei and Guangdong provinces

Transport officials mobilised thousands of employees to shovel snow and defrost railways and roads, according to a New York Times report. Police officers were assisting in pushing cars trapped by frozen roads.