Rain, snow threaten Lunar New Year

BEIJING: Heavy rain and snow storms were set to hit parts of China today,

meteorologists said, threatening travel

chaos as millions headed home on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

The Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, is China’s most important holiday, reuniting families around the vast nation of 1.3 billion and triggering an exodus believed to be the world’s largest annual human migration.

China’s Meteorological Administration said today the country’s south was set for rain and snow, while temperatures in the north would begin to fall. Heavy snow would also fall over parts of the east.

“Everyone must make preparations for rain, snow and falling

temperatures when returning home or going out to visit relatives and friends,” it said in an earlier warning.

Authorities are hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos after a massive cold wave and freezing rain hit southern and central China in 2008, crippling transport systems and stranding millions just as the travel rush got under way.

The government has said that 210 million passengers are expected to take the train during

the current New Year period, which officially began late January. Nearly 30 million more will travel by air and millions of others by bus.

With many Chinese living and working in cities a long way from their family, the crush on transport and resulting price hikes was a problem, Xinhua said, adding the price of a return

train ticket could be as much as one month’s salary for some.

Guo Kai, a 30-year-old Beijing IT worker, told the agency tickets were hard to come by. “A few of my friends queued up overnight outside ticket offices, and others bought tickets from scalpers,” Guo said.

South Koreans also gather in home towns or ancestral villages during the Lunar New Year to pay their respects to ancestors. The Lunar New Year is also a major public holiday across several other parts of Asia.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Lunar New Year message that he hoped the coming year would see a reversal of the city-state’s plunging birth rate. Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel is hoping to cash in on Valentine’s Day and the Chinese New Year starting the same day this year, the first time in decades in what has been dubbed locally as “double happiness”.

In Cambodia, around 300,000 Cambodian Chinese prepared to join in the festivities. Suon Sopheak, 27-year-old Phnom Penh resident, said it is becoming important in Cambodia’s society, with even Cambodians of none Chinese descent joining the fun.