With four-lane wide streets resembling ploughed, two-lane fields of slush and people preferring to walk along the street, or along what used to be the bike lanes, than walking on treacherous icy footpaths, the question commonly asked these days is when was the last time you saw snow this heavy in Hangzhou? Officially the 30 hour snow storm resulted in a snowfall of 31cm, and the West Lake had an inch of ice on it. I’ve only been living here for close to two years, and find myself expanding the question to when was the last time I saw snow this heavy – ever (The sporadic dustings of snow in Ireland quickly evaporate into slush)?
One dude here on the TV was harking back to the ‘great snow storm of 1976’ when the ice was thick enough that someone was able to walk out to the island in the middle of the lake (but the same dude was reminiscing a bit too much, and I suspect he was enjoying his bai jiu (rice wine) –glass in hand– a wee too much). Someone else alleged 54 years.
Whatever the answer, it is clear that there was an enormous lack of preparation on the part of the government here, which controlling a population of several millions claimed to be prepared for all eventualities.
The crippling effect of the snow storm, in which, on the eve of China’s most important holiday, rail, air, and road transportation services ceased to operate, with sporadic blackouts and rumoured food shortages, seems to have been mostly due to astonishment on the part of the government that traditional mass people mobilisation methods to clear the snow didn’t work. The government was simply overwhelmed. For instance, nobody told water local government truck driver, whose job it was to keep the roads clean, to stop spraying the road with water (and there wasn’t any salt in the water) in the midst of a blizzard and freezing conditions. He was simply doing his job – keeping the road clean… Hmm. The next day that same road had about 100 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers using picks and shovels to break the pack-ice that spread across the road.
The TV here shows continuous propaganda footage of government leaders extol ling and urging cold miners to increase production (a ticking time bomb for the next coal-mine disaster ), as power stations run low on fuel, and PLA soldiers serving the people by clearing roads. Regular people are seen shovelling and sweeping, trying to clear the way, something you certainly wouldn’t see back home in Ireland. Along the bottom of the TV screens is a running note on which cities have been hit with how much snow and directions for viewers’ help, things to do to alleviate any problems from the downfall. CCTV Channel 9, the English Channel, has running news coverage with notices for donating.
However, none of the YouTube footage showing hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers in railway and long-distance bus stations across east and southern China who, cold, tired and hungry simply want to get home to see their families). They don’t care about La Nina…
Reading of the destruction caused elsewhere by the snow storms, Hangzhou was lucky. Today the thaw is on, broken tree branches, disintegrated awnings and shelters, and melting snowmen, evidence of what was. City workers are out shaking snow from the trees, preparing for the next storm that is forecast to hit tomorrow, this time not waiting until after the fact. Hope everyone manages to get back to their loved one on time.
I’m not really looking forward to spending the week totally isolated in my apartment: Everything has shut down. Stores are closed, restaurants mostly closed, nobody around. So I guess I will just work.