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How My Husband Got Stranded At Guangzhou Railway Station In 2008

In 2008, masses of people get stranded at Guangzhou railway station due to a blizzard. What happens next is a tragedy.

28/01/2014

Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr

Author

6 years ago today, my husband is near Guangzhou railway station. He’s not the only one. It’s at the time of Chunyun (春运), the yearly mass migration that China experiences before Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival. Guangzhou and Beijing are the biggest transport hubs in mainland China and every year in the weeks before the New Year, millions of people have to change at the train stations of these two metropolises in order to get home in time to celebrate Spring Festival with their beloved ones.

In 2008, my husband is one of those travelers. If he wants to go back home, he can either take a train from Guangzhou to Changchun, or one from Shenzhen to Shenyang. His family had been able to get him a train ticket from Guangzhou to Changchun.

He’s needs to go from Shenzhen to Guangzhou first. When he arrives at Guangzhou, not the only one changing trains there. Moreover, the weather gods seem to be playing tricks on the Chunyun travelers and send heavy snow storms to Guangzhou, a place in China’s South that does not usually get any snow. Trains and planes all stay put. People are stranded at the train station, and are trying to find shelter from the blizzard. My husband has to wait in a crowd of a few 100,000 people at a square in front of the train station, and with about 170,000 people already being stranded in the train station, there’s no moving forward or backward. The army is trying to keep things under control. Luckily for my husband, he’s taller than most other travelers, making it easier for him to breath.

People start fainting and are carried out of the railway station or are carried away from the square by the crowds above their heads – similar to crowd surfing, but in a much more tragic situation. Unfortunately, some don’t make it out alive.

For 12 hours, my husband has to stand in the crowd, moving forward only from time to time. After 12 hours without either food or a toilet, he finally makes it into the railway station. It took 12 hours for 1.3 km. Once he’s in the railway station, he has to wait another 15 hours for his train. No drinking water is for sale, and empty instant noodle cups fill the train station. Personnel have fled the scene in fear of the angry crowds. My husband finally makes it on a Northeast bound train.

The lower berths of the sleeper compartments have been turned into seats, 4 people share one berth instead of only 1. The aisles are filled with people standing and sitting. The trains are overcrowded, but people are happy to finally have made it on a train.

Have you ever had to travel around the time of Chinese New Year? What was it like?