Published: 10:04, February 7, 2024 | Updated: 17:03, February 7, 2024
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Everyday heroes arrive in a snap to keep holidays rolling
By ​Zou Shuo in Changsha, Liu Kun in Wuhan and Zhu Lixin in Hefei

Electricity workers, doctors and traffic rescuers ensure Spring Festival travel beats the cold

Passengers waiting to board trains at Wuhan Railway Station in Hubei province on Feb 3, 2024. (KE HAO / FOR CHINA DAILY)

For several nights, Song Liang, an electricity maintenance worker in Wuhan, Hubei province, has slept with the window of his dormitory room open to make sure he is alert to falling snow and freezing rain.

Song said when he hears a "crackling sound" from frozen rain, he goes outside to check on electrical wires and the power relay station's four towers to see how thick the ice is.

On Jan 17, he and three of his colleagues were sent by the State Grid Wuhan power supply company to the Qingliangzhai hill station, which sits at an altitude of 800 meters, to make sure the facilities still function smoothly in the freezing and icy conditions.

READ MORE: China's Spring Festival travel rush begins with record surge

As part of its work, the team cleverly uses an unmanned aerial vehicle fitted with an insulated iron rod to hit the electrical wires and dislodge ice and snow. A smaller UAV monitors the thickness of the ice on the wires.

The UAVs have made their jobs much easier, as in the past they had to climb the tower to remove the ice and snow by hand, Song said.

Wuhan and many other places in central and eastern China, including Henan, Hunan and Anhui provinces, have been hit by heavy snow and freezing rain since Thursday.

Vehicles stranded in a highway traffic jam in Wuhan on Feb 5, 2024. (ZHENG XINQIA / NANFANG DAILY)

On Sunday, the National Meteorological Center issued an orange alert for blizzards that advised authorities to prepare for snow and freezing weather during the ongoing Spring Festival travel rush, which sees hundreds of millions of people traveling to reunite with their families and friends. Orange is the second-highest alert level in the country's four-tier, color-coded weather warning system.

The facilities Song and his colleagues maintain provide power to a section of the Beijing-Guangzhou High Speed Railway, one of China's most important rail arteries.

Wearing ice cleats and holding iron-tipped staffs, they patrol the hill nine times a day to check on electrical wires and the relay towers. The four-member team is divided into two groups, which conduct the patrols in turns.

Earlier, heavy snowfall left a 20-centimeter layer of snow on the ground, so the company sent the maintenance team in as a precaution, in case the relay station became inaccessible.

The thick snow has made the team's patrols very difficult. "The rain, snow and heavy fog mean that our clothes become wet very soon, and there is also the freezing temperature to contend with," Song said. "It is also challenging to walk mountain roads, which are covered by snow."

Workers clearing rail lines in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province. (WANG CHUN / FOR CHINA DAILY)

He said, however, the team is proud of its work and has a heavy sense of responsibility to help people get home to see their families during Spring Festival by ensuring the electricity supply.

Song is unsure whether he will be able to go to Wuhan and reunite with his family during the holiday as the snow is expected to continue for several more days. "I am prepared to spend Spring Festival eve in the dormitory. I also hope that the weather improves soon and people can have an easier journey home," he added.

Although he is not good at swimming, police officer Liu Bin did not hesitate to walk into a freezing river around noon on Sunday after he received a report that a man had fallen into the river in Taoyuan county, Hunan province.

READ MORE: China kicks off Spring Festival travel rush with 9b trips expected

The county has experienced heavy snow since Friday. The man, aged in his 20s, slipped and fell into the river while walking on a bridge.

Residents called the police and Liu, who lives near the river, rushed to the scene. The man had been trapped in the water for more than 30 minutes and could barely move when Liu arrived. "I served in the military for two years, so I am not afraid to die, let alone of the cold," Liu said.

With the help of the man's mother, Liu successfully pulled the man from the water. He was sent to the hospital and is in a stable condition.

"Police are always on the front line during emergencies. That's why I decided to join the force," Liu said.

Workers from transportation authorities help vehicles in Anhui province. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

At 3 am on Sunday, Luo Shamo, a road manager at Hunan Expressway Group's Yueyang subsidiary had been working at the Hangrui Dongting Lake Bridge in Yueyang, Hunan province, for more than nine hours.

With temperatures dropping to — 2 C, his face had turned red, there was frost in his hair and eyelashes and his shoes were soaked.

As the bridge spans Dongting Lake, China's second largest freshwater lake, it is common for the roads to become icy in winter. Luo and his colleagues had been under immense pressure to manage the traffic following the recent heavy snow and freezing rain.

"I am not the one working the hardest. The driver who drives the snow removal tractor has worked for 24 hours and we are trying to get more drivers," he said.

Some of motorists worry that their car battery will go flat in the freezing temperatures so they drive in the emergency lane, making it difficult for the snow removal work. Part of Luo's job is to instruct each of those drivers to return to the correct lanes.

On many occasions he has had to help the drivers to move their cars, as the snow has made driving very challenging.

At 5 am, Luo looked tired, but he said he was not sleepy and added there was more work for him and his colleagues to do.

State Grid Wuhan employees do maintenance work in Hubei province. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Special delivery

Liu Fang, a doctor at the Dianfang township of Xiangxi Tujia and Miao autonomous prefecture in Hunan, received a call from a pregnant woman in a local village on Sunday morning who told her she was about to give birth to her third child.

Liu and three other medical workers at the hospital immediately gathered the necessary medical equipment and headed to the woman's house.

However, the hospital's ambulance was not fitted with snow chains and it was unable to get through the heavy snow. Luckily, the doctors came across a three-wheel vehicle on the way and arrived at the woman's home in about 20 minutes.

The baby, however, was not in the right birthing position and there was a possibility the mother would require an urgent cesarean section surgery. "We tried our best to make her feel less stressed while monitoring her blood pressure, oxygen level and the baby's heartbeat," Liu said. "Luckily, the mother and baby were in a stable condition."

Vehicles are stuck in a traffic jam on the Beijing-Hong Kong-Macao Expressway on Feb 5, 2024. (ZHENG XINQIA / NANFANG DAILY)

The doctors contacted another hospital in the county, and Shi Anna and another doctor rushed to the house. Again, the heavy snow made the journey by car difficult and a snow chain snapped along the way.

"I did not want to rush the driver, because it is difficult to drive on mountain roads in heavy snow," Shi said. "But I also wanted to arrive at the woman's home as soon as possible. I was prepared to perform the C-section surgery at her home if her condition became critical," she said.

It took her team more than two hours to arrive at the village, which is usually reached in an hour. To their relief, the woman's condition was good, so they took her to the county hospital to perform the surgery.

"The journey to the hospital was extremely bumpy and we could see multiple cars on the side of the road that had been involved in accidents, but my mind was also occupied with ensuring the safety of the mother and her child."

They arrived at the hospital at 3:15 pm and the woman gave birth to her son at around 5 pm. Both the mother and baby were in a stable condition, Shi said.

A screen at Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan displays train delays on Feb 5, 2024. (ZHENG XINQIA / NANFANG DAILY)

Cold comfort

A blizzard hit Anhui province on Jan 31, bringing huge challenges to local traffic management.

By Sunday afternoon, Anhui Transportation Holding Group, which administrates more than 5,000 kilometers of expressway in the province, had dispatched nearly 10,000 workers for emergency response work, according to the company.

Liu Meichen, aged in her 30s, oversees an expressway toll station in Jinzhai county in mountainous Lu'an city. On the night of Jan 31, she was ordered to gather supplies and head to the station after a traffic jam was noticed in the company's monitoring room.

"My supervisor, who has worked longer than me, told me the situation was almost as serious as 2008, so we need to respond quickly," said Liu, who has worked for the expressway company for 11 years.

When she arrived at the traffic jam site in an emergency response vehicle, she was shocked to see the road blocked by hundreds of vehicles and covered in snow and ice.

Workers deliver instant noodles and hot water to drivers trapped on a highway in Wuhan. (ZHENG XINQIA / NANFANG DAILY)

By Sunday afternoon, the expressway management company had dispatched snowplows about 4,400 times across the province and 5,200 metric tons of snow-melting agent had been used to clear the expressways.

"But the snow was too heavy in Jinzhai, new snowfall just kept covering up the roads as the workers kept sweeping," Liu said.

"My colleagues and I got out of the car and moved supplies by foot," said Liu, adding that rescuers were already on the scene clearing snow and ice.

Weather reports said snowfall in some areas of the county was more than 15 centimeters.

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"As we distributed the supplies, including instant noodles and hot water, we also helped push vehicles so they could move or give way to others," said Liu, who was responsible for serving a distance covering 5 km.

"The elderly, women and children received supplies first," said Liu, who distributed items to more than 300 people during the night.

On Sunday, the workers found a car in an emergency lane with two children inside. "They (the children) said their parents had left to seek treatment for another child who had a fever," said Liu. Her colleague drove the car to a safe place and contacted the parents.

A tractor is used to clear ice and snow along a highway in Anhui. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

As the traffic jam continued, more supplies were needed. Liu surprisingly found that many local villagers had brought food from their homes for the stranded travelers.

"Some villagers took boiled eggs. They told me they had saved the eggs laid by their hens as a treat for their relatives returning home for Spring Festival," said Liu.

On Monday, when traffic began moving again, Liu noticed she and her colleagues and rescue workers were receiving overwhelming praise online.

"Thanks to the popularity of smartphones, social media and especially video platforms, the people we helped shot videos and posted them online to let more people know how we served the travelers in difficulty," said Liu.

"More importantly, people kept joining us to give a helping hand," she added.

Zhu Youfang contributed to this story.

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