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Families stranded for Chinese New Year -

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Families stranded for Chinese New Year

AM - Monday, 4 February , 2008 08:24:00

Reporter: Stephen McDonell

TONY EASTLEY: As timing goes it couldn't be worse. This year's record-breaking ice and snow storms
in China have left tens of millions of people stranded as they try to make their way home to
families for Chinese New Year.

The New Year is the country's most important celebration and more than 150 million people travel
home by train alone. But the cold snap has seriously upset a lot of carefully laid plans.

China Correspondent, Stephen McDonell reports.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: There are three days to go until the Chinese New Year and those who are lucky
enough to make it onto trains, planes and buses are heading home.

The worst snow and ice storms in 50 years will prevent millions of low-paid workers from
travelling, missing out on their only chance to be with their families each year. So this year's
Spring Festival will be rather gloomy for many people.

(Chinese woman speaking)

"It's so sad that people can't be with their families," a woman says. "But no-one can avoid a
natural disaster."

(Chinese man speaking)

"Of course I feel sad", one man says. "After the disaster hit the south, the price of vegetables
has gone up. I wouldn't have spent so much on food without this disaster."

(Chinese man speaking)

"I think God's bad," says another. "Of all the times to make it snow, why do it during the Spring
Festival?"

But the party must go on and no Chinese New Year is complete without fireworks. Chinese people
believe they scare away the demons of the year gone by. So, for people who cant' go home, they'll
be buying the loudest crackers they can get their hands on.

(Chinese man speaking)

"I've bought quite a lot this time. I've spent over 800 yuan."

(Chinese man speaking)

"In the past, on Spring Festival Eve," this man says, " people would make a fire and scare the
ghosts away, now we use fireworks. We can get rid of the bad luck of the previous year and open the
door to auspicious things."

During the Chinese New Year period, the economy is given a huge boost, the effect is similar to
Christmas in the West.

But this year Chinese people are focusing on their less fortunate compatriots and making donations
of food and money to assist stranded travellers.

(Chinese woman speaking)

"This natural disaster has been really hard for people. We'll help them as much as we can. We hope
they can have a good Spring Festival too."

The dumplings are being made, the food markets are crowded and children are eyeing off their
fireworks waiting to set them off.

But a fair bit of the gloss has been frozen over for this year's New Year Festival.

This is Stephen McDonell in Beijing for AM.