China issued a severe weather warning on Monday for large swathes of the country already reeling from transport havoc and power shortages caused by the heaviest snowfalls in decades.

The forecast of further severe snowstorms came as hundreds of thousands of travellers remained stranded in airports, train stations, and on highways as they struggled to join their families for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Even before the new weather warning, Premier Wen Jiabao called late Sunday for "urgent" action to combat blackouts and the mounting transport chaos caused by what has been described as the heaviest snow in China in half a century in places.

At least a dozen people died at the weekend and thousands were injured in weather-related accidents, state media said, adding to scores of deaths in preceding weeks.

The civil affairs ministry said Monday that 24 people died due to heavy snow in China since January 10, but the toll did not appear to include dozens reportedly killed in traffic accidents on icy roads during the period.

There has also been an economic cost -- 22 billion yuan (3 billion dollars), said the official Xinhua news agency, without breaking down the figures.

Wen ordered local governments to mobilise all resources to prevent further disasters, focusing special attention on ensuring distribution of energy supplies.

"Due to the rain, snow and frost, plus increased winter use of coal and electricity and the peak travel season, the job of ensuring coal, electricity and oil supplies and adequate transportation has become quite severe," Wen said at a cabinet meeting.

A government official said on Monday the country's stockpile of coal for electricity generation had dropped to 21 million tonnes, less than half normal levels at this time of year.

Meanwhile, 17 provinces had taken power-rationing measures including deliberate blackouts in some areas, the official added, amid reports many power lines were knocked out by snow and frost.

"More heavy snow is expected. All government departments must prepare for this increasingly grim situation and urgently take action," Wen said.

The China Meteorological Administration warned of further heavy snow or freezing rain in nine provinces before the situation eases later this week.

The snow has caused more than 100,000 houses to collapse -- killing ten people -- and damaged 400,000 other homes, Xinhua reported.

At least a dozen airports around the country were closed on Monday due to icy conditions, state television said, including those serving the provincial capitals Nanjing, Changsha and Wuhan.

An official at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport told AFP that most flights there were cancelled in the afternoon.

More than 40 flights between Hong Kong and mainland China had also been cancelled or delayed in the past two days, a Hong Kong airport spokeswoman told AFP.

The weather woes could not have come at a worse time, with millions of Chinese relying on the country's transport system for an annual holiday migration that is chaotic even at the best of times.

State television broadcast scenes of teeming crowds massed at train stations in central, eastern and southern China.

More than 150,000 were stuck in the train station of Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, on Sunday after a power failure prevented more than 136 electric trains from arriving from neighbouring Hunan province.

Thousands were still waiting to depart on Monday but the government said it could take until the end of this week for traffic there to return to normal.

The official China News Service said Guangdong Railway Group, which operates rail services throughout southern China, turned away passengers as anger mounted and urged people to avoid rail travel to ease the strain.

The Guangzhou rail station stopped selling train tickets on Sunday and will not resume sales until February 6, a notice there said.

Separately, the Railway Ministry announced that priority on the nation's rail system would go to transporting coal, which provides about 70 percent of China's energy needs, but it wasn't immediately clear how this would affect passenger traffic.