Weeks of freezing temperatures in northern Yunnan Province have severely damaged long stretches of highways, leading to transportation difficulties and casualties. Authorities struggle to keep highways open for safe transportation.
Since late January, Zhaotong, Qujing, Diqing, Nujiang and other cities in northern Yunnan Province have reported disasters related to the chilly weather. From January 19 to February 16, up to 8,700 miles of highway, including 165 miles of a superhighway, incurred serious damage. Over 20,000 vehicles and 178,000 passengers were trapped on the highway.
On February 14, the weather drastically morphed into heavy rain and snow, followed by rapidly dropping temperatures, once again disrupting highway transportation. Highways in Qujing began to freeze that evening, closing off all six roads connecting it to neighboring cities. The road conditions held up 42 passenger service routes, roughly 600 scheduled buses and 800 shipping vehicles. Zhaotong City and Diqing Tibetan Prefecture also reported varying degrees of transportation shutdown and road closure.
In response to the disasters, the Yunnan Provincial Bureau of Transportation executed its emergency plan to establish a rescue task force. They used their best effort to ensure freely flowing transportation and to secure the delivery of critical materials.
However, the combination of the Yunnan plateau's high elevation, dramatic climate changes and extreme temperatures have hampered the emergency countermeasures. Due to inadequate funds and equipment, no level of highway administration have dedicated itself to using anti-freeze, skid-proof or de-icing equipment. The task of keeping the highway open remains a tough challenge.
Official statistics released by the Yunnan Bureau of Civil Affairs indicated that the weather conditions affected over 10 million residents in Yunnan. There were 12 casualties, four persons missing and 3,900 persons injured or sick.