BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Brutal winter weather that has battered China's central, eastern and southern sections prompted the China Meteorological Administration to issue a rare red alert Monday as the nation braced for more snow and bone-chilling temperatures.
Heavy snowfalls have stranded thousands of passengers ahead of the nation's vacation period.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the weather threatens lives and has strained supplies of fresh food and energy ahead of the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, which falls on Feb. 7.
"Urgently mobilize and work as one to wage this tough battle against the disaster," Wen told officials during a weekend emergency meeting. "Ensure that the people enjoy a joyful and auspicious Spring Festival."
The cold spell has brought heavy snow and sleet, paralyzing roads, railways and airports, stranding hundreds of thousands of travelers ahead of the holiday, authorities said.
Almost 150,000 passengers were stuck in the Guangzhou railway station Saturday after heavy snowfall knocked out power and stopped operation of more than 130 trains in Hunan province, along a line serving Beijing and Guangzhou, Chinese media reported.
Local officials predicted that as many as 600,000 passengers could be stranded in Guangzhou as rural migrant workers attempt to head home for the holiday.
During the two weeks before and after the Lunar New Year, more than 177 million Chinese are expected to travel by train, and 22 million more by plane, the official English-language newspaper China Daily reported.
The brutal weather was also putting a damper on local stock markets already battered by global recession fears. Chinese share prices dropped more than five percent in Monday morning trading, as investors fretted over the damage caused by what could be the worst snowfall in 50 years. Hardest hit were transport and power stocks.
Amid the emergency, Chinese leaders were taking steps to soften the impact. Provinces were being asked to share coal and electricity supplies. Expressways have been ordered to waive tolls on trucks ferrying fresh vegetables and other staples, Chinese media reported. E-mail to a friend