Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
While traveling to celebrate the Year of the Monkey, passengers found themselves crammed into a railway station for hours.
Chinese New Year, which falls on February 8, is all about making a fresh start and bringing in good luck. But en route to Year of the Monkey celebrations, 100,000 unlucky passengers were stranded earlier this week at a train station in Guangzhou thanks to a rare bout of heavy snow and freezing temperatures. This comes at a time when the country is experiencing the world’s largest annual human migration—with more than 2.9 billion trips expected.
According to the Chinese news agency, the poor weather resulted in flight cancellations and road blocks, which pushed people toward the country’s already crowded railways. And even though extra trains were added, some railways were experiencing delays of up to an hour. At the Guangzhou station, at least 32 trains were delayed, reports the South China Morning Post. That left hundreds of thousands of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder for hours—many in the pouring rain—at railway stations across central and eastern China.
CNN reports that Guangzhou’s security bureau issued an emergency alert, sending 6,200 security guards to the station to manage the crowds. By Tuesday morning local time, the number of people stuck at the Guangzhou had gone down to 50,000. And as of Wednesday, Guangzhou Railway Corp. estimates that 33,000 remain stranded.
Of course, China is no stranger to massive traffic jams and unwieldy crowds, especially when the big holidays roll around. That’s usually when China’s millions of migrant workers embark on a journey back to the countryside virtually at the same time. Hundreds of millions were trapped in a 50-lane traffic jam last October during the Golden Week, a weeklong national holiday. And when China rang in 2015, a New Year’s eve stampede in Shanghai killed 35 people and injured 49 others after huge crowds rushed toward the riverfront promenade.
At least one woman was able to avoid the chaos, scoring an empty flight home after a 10-hour delay made other passengers give up waiting. But for other travelers, the frustration surrounding the latest holiday travel woes does not mark an auspicious start to the new year. Here’s to hoping that the upcoming festivities—with firecrackers, food, and performers dressed as the Monkey King—will be enough to turn things around.