BEIJING, China (CNN) -- At least 25 people were killed when a bus plunged off an icy road in China Tuesday, as the worst winter weather in half a century threw the peak travel season into chaos and led to an emergency meeting of the Communist Party Politburo.
I-Reporter Cindy Van Den Heuvel says there are few vehicles on the road in Nanjing, China.
Hundreds of thousands of travelers are stranded ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday and even plans by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to travel to the center of the country to help direct disaster relief were disrupted.
The snow in central, eastern and southern China has caused roofs to collapse and has made traveling treacherous, leading to at least 49 deaths, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and local officials said.
About 827,000 people have been evacuated in 14 provinces since January 10, the ministry said, and damages were estimated at 22 billion yuan ($3 billion). Nearly 78 million people live in the 14 provinces. See I-Reporters' photos of the snow »
Wen flew out of Beijing en route to Hunan province on Monday night, but had to detour to neighboring Hubei province because of the bad weather. He completed his trip by train, arriving in Changsha City, Hunan's capital, on Tuesday morning, the Xinhua news agency reported.
He met with local officials to map out disaster plans, and made an unusual apology to Chinese citizens for the problems.
"I apologize to you all," Wen said. "We're currently trying our best to repair the system.
"First we'll fix the electric grid. After that, the trains will run again... then all of you can go home for the Chinese New Year," the premier said.
The Politburo meeting Tuesday meanwhile was chaired by President Hu Jintao, The Associated Press reported. It discussed warnings of further severe weather.
Millions of Chinese migrant workers travel every year between the cities where they work and their homes in the countryside to celebrate the Spring Festival on February 7 -- a time when Chinese traditionally return to their families, Xinhua reported, putting intense pressure on the country's transport network. Watch gridlock at Beijing's main railway station »
An estimated 500,000 passengers were stuck at the Guangzhou train station as heavy snowfall knocked out power and greatly slowed rail operations in Hunan province, along a line serving Beijing and Guangzhou, Chinese media reported. Armed police were deployed to keep order.
CNN's Hugh Riminton, reporting from the station, said the situation was dismal. Most of the people waiting were huddled under a roadway underpass, shivering with wet clothing and hair.
Families with children tried to find dry places to sleep, often ending up on the ground or pushed against walls.
Mercifully, the cold temperatures and driving rain were helping to keep down the odor from the public restrooms, he said.
Entrepreneurial food vendors wove their carts among the throngs, selling homemade goods after most restaurants in the station put up barriers to keep people from sleeping and crowding in their establishments.
Periodically, rumors spread through the crowd that a train at long last was arriving. Mobs pushed towards the gates until it was clear no train was coming, Riminton said. Incredibly, hundreds of people kept coming to the station to catch a train, despite widespread news coverage that the trains were not running.
Guangdong railway authorities said traffic on the Beijing-Guangzhou line probably would not return to normal for most of the week.
Early Tuesday, a passenger bus plunged off a slippery mountain road in southwestern China's Guizhou province, killing at least 25 people and injuring 13 others, Xinhua reported.
Provincial officials said the bus veered off an icy, snow-packed highway near Zunyi City around 7:40 a.m. and fell into a valley more than 100 feet (40 meters) deep.
Chinese Ministry of Public Safety spokesman Wu Heping said nearly 1 million police have been dispatched to help keep roadways open.
Airports in at least 10 cities were closed temporarily on Monday, and adding to the woes, seven of the eight highways connecting Guangdong and Hunan provinces have been cut off, Xinhua reported.
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 has reported. E-mail to a friend
CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.
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