Meanwhile, at least 25 people were killed and 13 injured early Tuesday in southern China, after a bus slid on an icy section of the roadway and went off the road in mountainous Guizhou province, Xinhua News Agency said. Wintery weather has caused numerous accidents, closed roads and delayed trains.
About 500,000 people - most of them migrant workers - were stuck in the southern city of Guangzhou, railway officials said. Heavy snowfall in provinces to the north had cut off parts of the busy railway line that starts in the city and ends in Beijing.
Officials were scrambling to prevent riots in Guangzhou and find temporary shelter in schools and convention centers for the crowd, which was swelling each day as more workers tried to return to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year.
The holiday, which begins on Feb. 7, is as important in China as Christmas is in the West. For many migrants, it's their only chance to visit their families, and they stay away for weeks.
But many looked set to be disappointed as forecasters warned Monday that more heavy snow and freezing rain would hit the central provinces of Hunan, Hubei and Henan, as well as Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangsu to the east this week.
The storms, which have killed 24 people since they began Jan. 10, have already caused economic losses of 18.2 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion; euro1.7 billion), the Civil Affairs Ministry said.
At Guangzhou's main train station, a massive outdoor plaza was packed with people pulling luggage or hefting it over their heads. The crowd spilled out onto a major thoroughfare in front of the station, and the busy road was blocked off to create more space for the travelers.
The workers created small camps with their suitcases, bundles and bags of snacks. They littered the ground with chicken bones, sunflower seed shells and cigarette butts.
Radio announcements told people to stop going to the station, which ceased selling tickets until Feb. 7. State-run newspapers ran headlines urging the migrants to seek ticket refunds and stay put for the holiday.
Li Moming, a construction worker, said he spent the night on the street, enduring a bone-chilling drizzle. The train that was to take the 48-year-old man to his village in central Henan province - 20 hours away - was canceled. He said his next move might be to scuttle his travel plans and spend the holiday in his dormitory room at his work site.
"I thought about taking a bus but the highways are shut down, too. Oh well, what can you do?" said the jovial Li, dressed in a mud-splattered brown pinstriped suit for his ill-fated homecoming.
Other migrant workers were just as stoic - an approach to life they've learned from living on the rugged bottom rung of China's society, with constant hardship, long delays and disappointment.
But the authorities were prepared for the worst. Hundreds of police and soldiers set up barricades and controlled the flow of the crowd. They blew whistles and barked orders at the travelers with megaphones.