Rescuers battle to find 400 missing people
RESCUERS fought bad weather yesterday as they searched for more than 400 missing people, many of them elderly Chinese tourists, after a cruise ship was buffeted by a freak tornado and capsized in central China's Yangtze River.
The accident on Monday night is likely to end up as China's worst shipping disaster in almost 70 years, reported Reuters.
Dozens of rescue boats battled wind and rain to reach the ship, which lay upturned in water about 15m deep near Jianli county of Hubei province.
The official Xinhua news agency said rescuers could hear people calling for help from inside the ship's hull and footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed rescuers cutting through it with an angle grinder.
A total of 14 people were saved by last evening from the four-deck Dongfangzhixing, or Eastern Star, which had 458 people on board when it flipped over at about 9.58pm on Monday night, according to Xinhua.
The 76.5m-long ship was travelling on the popular tourist route from the eastern city of Nanjing to the south-western city of Chongqing.
Five bodies had been recovered from the wreckage, where most of the missing might be trapped.
Most of the passengers as well as the ship's crew were in bed when the accident struck.
Zhang Hui, a 43-year-old tour guide who was swept by currents downriver after he was thrown overboard, described heavy rain flooding passengers' rooms just after 9pm on Monday.
"Rain poured down on the right side of the boat, many rooms were flooded," Mr Zhang said.
The boat sent no emergency signal and seven people from the boat swam to shore to raise the alarm after it capsized, according to reports.
Yesterday, at least 3,000 people, including 140 divers, carried out rescue work where the overturned ship rested after floating downriver for about 3km.
"Rescuers knocked on the ship and received responses," the Hubei Daily said. "Three people were found alive."
Police teams worked to get small motorboats to search for survivors in heavy rain, the Agence France-Presse reported.
State broadcaster CCTV showed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang giving instructions at the scene.
President Xi Jinping earlier ordered "all-out rescue efforts" to find any survivors.
The captain and chief engineer, who are being questioned by the authorities, both reportedly said it had been caught in a "tornado" and capsized in less than a minute.
Most passengers on board were aged over 60, according to a manifest.
State broadcaster CCTV said there were 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency workers and 47 crew members on board.
Xinhua said an investigation by the Ministry of Transport had determined that the ship was not overloaded and had a sufficient number of life jackets.
The vessel was owned by a firm that operates tours in the scenic Three Gorges dam region, some distance from the accident site.
The ship started operations in 1993 and was due to be retired in three years to meet regulations, according to the 21st Century Business Herald.
The accident occurred in the middle reaches of the Yangtze, which at 6,300km is Asia's longest river.
Relatives of the passengers clamoured for information outside the Chongqing Eastern Ship Company, which owns the ship, in Chongqing, as well as the office of a Shanghai tour operator which had organised the trip. AGENCIES