waiting at the train station

Half a million people stuck in the Guangzhou Train Station, over 100 trains carrying thousands of people each stranded in the worst winter snowstorms in 50 years, a million houses destroyed or damaged, power outages in more than half of China’s provinces, and two million troops deployed to deal with it. Even Wen Jiabao came to Guangzhou and apologised.

I guess I’m blogging it again today because I’ve been hearing from Guangzhou and besides a bit on SBS World News website, there has been no coverage of this in the Australian media.

China: Storm in the way home

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008 @ 03:52 UTC
by Bob Chen

It’s just a 20-hour travel, but I have lost contact with my 3 kids for 3 days! The train must have been stranded in somewhere unknown, in the wild far from any station. The only cell-phone text message they sent yesterday told that they were out of money, the train short of food and hot water. Anyone could help me!?

A worried mother posted an aid-seeking message on Tianya.com 8 days ago, asking for information regarding her three children who set out for home before the snowstorm by rail. Their whereabouts, along with that of the train, had lost. This kind of posts flooded on the many net forums these days, while most replies, despite compassionate greetings, could deliver no help, as during the most serious snowstorm China met in as long as 50 years, there were over 40 thousand passengers were stranded along the Beijing-Guangzhou railway at the peak, hard to contact.

Because of the continuous sleet and freezing rain, the power lines in Hunan province were overwhelmed by the frozen rain, and under the unusual weight, a lot of power pylons were toppled by the ice.

Collapsed power line, ice covered.
Collapsed power line, ice covered.

The power failure bogged down most of the trains, which were led by electric locomotive, along the Beijing-Guangzhou line, and further paralyzed all but the entire north-south railway artery. To make the matter worse, it ran into the busiest traffic season in China, the Chinese New Year, when millions of people that had worked hard for the whole year were looking forward to a reunion at hometown. They, most of them migrant workers, would usually jostle and bustle in the carriages as crowded as sardine cans to go home. But this year the travel was far more hard.

A train stranded
A train stranded

Many train passengers didn’t know the situation until they found themselves motionless in the wild for many hours. A netizen recorded his terrible experience.

We set out on 27th. There were about 2 times as many passengers as allowed (very usual as most passengers buy stand tickets to save money. —translator). In the evening we arrived in Hunan and the progress was punctuated by stoppages, some of which lasted 4 to 5 hours. The whole Hunan was covered by the ice, like a huge sugar-glazed-haw (a kind of snack). The sleet, chilly and thick, kept falling. The carriages were crowded. We tried not to drink much because to go the toilet we had spend 10 minutes to hustle through people…… There were as if people under the feet, and people above the head.

The smell stink as if hundreds of men exhaling to you without brushing their teeth.

The situation continued till the next night. The food carts were not seen anymore and we had nothing more to eat. The water tank dried too and soon the heating stopped. Complaints turned into vituperations. Somebody smashed the window to jump out. People came to be so testy that a casual controversy would turn to be a fight. Outside the window it was wholly dark. The cold rain persisted. No one knew where we were.

The train was like a prison. Everybody were impulsed to flee out of it……

There used to be 130 trains going like this, waiting on the track. The airproof carriages and the shortage of supply would drive passengers to the merge of insanity.

Chinanews reported that in a 128-seat carriage over 200 travelers were crushed in. During the 30-hour delay in an unfrequented small station, a man yelled to the trainmen that he was being pursued and killed. Another man reported people around tried to hocus him.

A train police said they had to spend half an hour to go through simply one carriage, because there was hardly a space to set the foot on. Meanwhile, they had to sooth the nervous passengers and stop those trying to break the windows and jump out. To all the people on train, it was quite an uneasy challenge.

They finally arrived after be trapped for 68 hours.
They finally arrived after be trapped for 68 hours.
On the icy road, more than 20 thousand vehicles trapped.
On the icy road, more than 20 thousand vehicles trapped.

The waiting drove people to desperation, especially when a 12-hour travel was prolonged to be over two days, as in many cases. Those stranded on the way dreamed of warm home and a greeting from the anxious families. But those still stayed in the railway station, on the contrary, would spend everything to board on a train. Affected by the paralyzed railway, over half a million passengers were congested in the railway hub of Guangzhou, a southern metropolis.

Crowded, crazy; gigantic flow of noise and hordes of confused people. Even this can’t tell how the hell on earth has been.

Guangzhou Station
Guangzhou Station

A passenger recorded what he went through in the station:

I walked out of the D2 exit, and could not help but marveled at the place I saw. Such a packed crowd, so noisy, people crying, shouting, smiling, voices were everywhere. Endless heads in front of me, all black heads.

I felt a flood-like power behind me and was helplessly pushed forward, staggering. I had to walk aside, and then found a girl had fallen down ahead, with a bag on the back, hardly climbing up. An imploration glistened in her eyes, face flushed, as if going to cry out hard: “don’t jostle, you step on me!” The weak voice was so faint among the seas of crowd.

Saving trampled passengers
Saving trampled passengers

Another netizen told his terrible experience:

Even though I don’t close my eyes, I could clearly see the scenes I witnessed last night at the Guangzhou station. Screaming, people falling down, people crying, people waiting, and the tread, broken, scattered luggage packs.

Thousands of people piled up at the east side of the square. I was clamped among the crowd. Some beside me took pains to make out a little space for the metal pails on which they could rest. A covey of military police organized a flesh wall. Police then stood still to form a laneway through it. They called the sitting people to stand up. If the crowd surged up, they might have no chance to do so.

11 pm. People surged forward. Some ahead shouted that some was pushed down. But no one listened to that, people marching on. An elder tripped over before me, and I took a chance to pull him up, while all he took with him had been rolled to under the stream, including a big pan. A kid tripped over too and I again pulled him up. Shouting such as “Some got stepped” and “stop” never ceased. But of course, no one stopped. To those who had waited for a few days, a stop was impossible.

I was dragged forward for about ten meters before I found myself out of the crowd. A woman was crying hard that her kid was not out. 3 to 4 people were also crying in hysterics, calling for the names of their families. The luggage scattered around and some were trampled to be a mess.

According to a report, one passenger was trampled to death. Singly on 31st, January, more than 100 passengers fell in faint due to hunger, cold and congestion.

Guards holding waves of crowd
Guards holding waves of crowd

Expecting to go home, many migrant workers would cancel the rented houses by the end of the year, which means they had to take the station plaza as a shelter during the several days’ suspending. Bone-chilling drizzle trembled them; shortage of food stirred their stomachs; extreme crowd jam choked them. At chilly night, they cuddled up under the pedestrian bridge, some lucky men going to the temporary shelter set by the government. But these were not the reasons of giving up the hope to go home.

sleeping in a temporary shelter
sleeping in a temporary shelter
passenger delivered out by a hand-to-hand relay.
passenger delivered out by a hand-to-hand relay.

Accordingly, the food price around the station was going up. 30 RMB for each set of fast food. 5 RMB per bottle of water. There were so many people concentrating, and so hard to find somewhere to relieve oneself. Someone made it at where they waited. The sanitation was so bad.

Mr. Sheng, along with his 2 colleagues, prepared straw mats and quilts, sleeping under a bridge near the station for 4 days, awaiting the train. Ms. Sun, a migrant worker, 36, had been waiting with her 8-year-old daughter inside the railing and barriers overnight. An apple and a piece of bread were all that they had. They, as well as most passengers, dared not to go out of the plaza once getting in, because they feared that they wouldn’t be so lucky to jostle back. Because of the limited space, most people had to stand on feet, and the only way to comfort the sleepy eyes was to nap for a while upon a shoulder of a stranger nearby. source

Therefore, the waiting was a challenge, both physical and mental. The temporary medical post was super busy on taking care of both passengers and station staffs, including police and volunteers.

Tired soldiers. They can only have 4 hours’ sleep a day.
Tired soldiers. They can only have 4 hours’ sleep a day.

These days, the whole city was mobilized. A great many police, guards, military police and even soldiers were mustered to control the powerful flood of crowd. They organized flesh walls to hold out waves of anxious people, keeping the order. A mass donation has been launched to help those stranded at the station, and many volunteer workers were dispatched to the front line.

Guangzhou, and the southern region, was trying its best to comfort the migrant workers, who have been contributed so much to the prosperity of the coastal cities.

Premier Wen Jiabao was inspecting the station.
Premier Wen Jiabao was inspecting the station.

It was a national disaster. But even the most staggering statistical number (the billions of loss, millions of affected people) could not tell how deeply a heart of going home was ravaged. But who could deny, on the other hand, that the unbelievable snowstorm reunioned the whole country again, the entire society fighting together because we share the same dream of going home?

Pictures from sina.com, 163.com, Southern Metropolis Daily, Xinkuai, Tianya

— Global Voices Online