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China warns of 'grim' situation

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: China warns "situation remains grim," according to news reports
  • Officials say 400,000 still stranded at Guangzhou, amid chaotic scenes
  • Millions are trying to return home to see their families for Lunar New Year
  • Three weeks of snow storms across China have inflicted $7.5 billion in damages
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(CNN) -- Chinese authorities are warning that the continuing snow storms would still crush the hopes of many people desperate to see their families during their only break of the year.

"The most difficult period is still not over yet. The situation remains grim," the Chinese cabinet said in a statement reported on Saturday by The Associated Press. More snow and sleet were forecast across southern and central China.

The warning came as millions of Chinese began preparations for next week's Lunar New Year holiday period.

On Friday, heartbreaking video from the southern city of Guangzhou showed crowds of people -- many of them migrant workers --screaming, elbowing each other, in some cases sobbing and collapsing in the rush to get a slot on a train.

Police battled to keep order in chaotic scenes in the capital of southern Guangdong province. One officer lifted a small child above the crowd as the child's mother clutched the officer's coat. A woman who fainted was carried over the mob to receive medical help.

State-run news agency Xinhua reported that 95 percent of rail traffic had "returned to normal." But conditions were far from normal, with nearly a week's worth of travelers wanting to climb on board.

Local reports said hundreds of thousands of people were massed like a herd of humanity into a huge, makeshift corral larger than a football field.

Xinhua said 400,000 people were stranded at Guangzhou Railway Station on Friday, down about half from the height of the crisis.

The winter storm -- China's worst in 50 years -- has already been blamed for at least 63 deaths around the country, including at least 25 when a bus plunged off a slippery mountain road in the southwestern Guizhou province. The government has reported $7.5 billion in damage from the storm.

The government also announced a $700 million plan to help farmers whose crops have been destroyed.

After transportation around the country began to be shut down Saturday, authorities called on millions of migrant workers to forgo their annual Lunar New Year trip home.

"For the sake of their safety, and relieving the stress on transport, I advise migrant workers to stay in the cities where they work," Zheng Guogang, chief of the China Meteorological Administration, told the state newspaper China Daily.

But for an estimated 200 million people, the annual trek is sometimes the only opportunity to see family that they have left behind -- and the vast majority travel by train. This year, the holiday begins February 6.

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The storm has spiraled into a crisis in some areas, with authorities worried about potential loss of critical supplies. Some have already lost power, and local authorities say diesel and even rice could run out in a matter of days.

Weather forecasts suggest more wintry precipitation is on the way for Saturday, with a possible break on Sunday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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