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Army Dispatched to Feed Starving Travelers

Dozens of camouflaged mobile kitchens, engulfed in clouds of steam, have been weaving through the congested Shaoguan section of the main highway in Guangdong Province for the past two days.

The mission: To provide free, hot food for thousands of people stranded on the snow-laden road.

On Monday, about 40 field kitchens and trucks set off from the Guangzhou Military Command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) carrying more than 200 soldiers and 30 tons of rice and flour. The troops were dispatched immediately after their headquarters got word to help the local government deal with the heavy snow "by all means necessary", an officer with the division told China Daily.

"I was shocked by how desperate people were here," Li Xudong, director of the division's political department, said.

"I saw a woman with frostbitten lips crying. She was starving but couldn't afford the 80 yuan (US$11) being charged by peddlers for a bowl of noodles."

The field kitchens include three staple-food vehicles able to churn out buns for 900 people every hour, and 27 trucks that can provide 150 people an hour with three dishes and a bowl of soup, Li said.

The kitchens are working around-the-clock, he said.

By yesterday afternoon, the food convoys had provided meals for about 11,000 people, Li said. An estimated 20,000 stranded travelers will have been given at least one hot meal by the end of today.

The cost of the food will be covered by the local government's disaster relief budget, Li said.

"When we showed up, I could see many people felt like they had taken a step closer to their homes," he said.

The division will deploy a further 1,000 soldiers today to de-ice the highway, Li said.

About 500 km to the north, a reserve division of the Guangzhou Military Command is also battling ice in Xiangtan, a severely snow-hit region in Hunan Province.

As of yesterday afternoon, more than 5,000 soldiers had been sent to help people trapped in the area.

More than 400 people have received help, dozens of whom required medical care and were taken to hospital, Chu Tianqing, an officer in charge of publicity with the division, told China Daily.

The troops have also de-iced about 170 km of highways and recovered nearly 4,000 m of collapsed power cables.

As well as the Guangzhou Military Command, which operates in south China, troops across the country have been joining forces to battle the effects of the fierce weather conditions.

As of yesterday, 158,000 soldiers and police personnel, plus 303,000 paramilitaries, had joined the relief effort, the Xinhua News Agency said.

The General Staff Headquarters of the PLA said it has suspended leave for some troops to ensure there is sufficient manpower.

(China Daily January 31, 2008)

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