Winter storm sparks travel woes for thousands in China

Extreme winter weather caused travel chaos across southern China on Tuesday, forcing the prime minister to make a rare public apology to the tens of thousands stranded by heavy snowfall.

Extreme winter weather caused more travel chaos across southern China on Tuesday, forcing the country's prime minister to make a rare public apology to the tens of thousands of stranded by heavy snowfall.

Around 50 deaths so far have been blamed on the weather, including at least 25 people who were killed Tuesday after a bus plunged off an icy roadway in southwest China, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The unusual amount of snow thwarted travel plans for tens of millions of Chinese during the country's busiest holiday season and sent vegetable prices soaring because of hampered deliveries by truck and train.

Coal shortages have also forced power plants to shut down.

In a televised appearance at a train station in Hunan province, Premier Wen Jiabao said officials were doing their best to clear tracks and repair the country's paralyzed rail system and promised hundreds of stranded travellers they would be home in time for the Chinese lunar new year holidays.

"I apologize to you all," CNN quoted Wen as saying over a bullhorn at the station's main hall. 

About 500,000 people — most migrant workers — were stuck in the southern city of Guangzhou, railway officials said. Heavy snowfall in provinces to the north had cut off parts of the busy railway line that starts in the city and ends in Beijing.

President Hu Jintao called an emergency meeting with the top echelon of party leaders, which urged local authorities to regard disaster relief as the "most pressing task" and make "all-out efforts" to ensure normal production and life in areas hit by the storm, Xinhua said.