Chinese authorities are racing to reach survivors still trapped beneath a passenger ship that capsized in the Yangtze River late Monday. More than 450 passengers and crew with ages ranging from three to 80 were on board the ship when it went down. Most of the passengers were elderly Chinese tourists.
Only 15 people are known to have managed to get out alive, more than 400 are still missing. The People’s Daily website reported late Tuesday three bodies were found 50 kilometers from the wreckage site. Whether others were swept away is unclear.
The ship’s captain and chief engineer were among those who managed to escape the sunken ship. Both are in the custody of authorities as officials investigate the cause of the incident.
State media have blamed the incident on bad weather the vessel encountered on its voyage from Nanjing to Chongqing. But some have begun to question the claim a tornado was to blame. According to the Xinhua news agency, both the captain and chief engineer said the ship was suddenly struck by a tornado before it capsized.
What is clear is that torrential rains and strong winds were pelting the area where the incident occurred when the ship tipped over. Forecasters say heavy rains are likely to continue through Wednesday, further hampering rescue efforts.
Dozens of divers and scores of ships aided the rescue effort Tuesday. Rescue workers tapped on the bobbing hull of the ship and cut open holes in an effort to reach those trapped inside and still alive.
Shortly after noon on Tuesday, one elderly woman was pulled from the wreckage and was seen being helped out of the water by rescue workers. State media say the rescued woman is 65 years of age and her condition is stable. Another was pulled out later.
China’s cruise industry along the Yangtze River is growing, and retirees are a key focus of travel agencies as the country looks to boost domestic spending. The ferry that capsized, the Oriental Star, has been in service for more than 20 years and is owned by the Chongqing Oriental Ferry Company, a state-owned enterprise that is struggling with mounting debt, Chinese media reports say.
Chinese authorities have been quick to take action, putting their emphasis on efforts to save possible survivors. President Xi Jinping has “ordered all out rescue efforts” and his right hand man, Premier Li Keqiang, traveled to the site of the accident.
Authorities have also enacted tight restrictions on media coverage in an apparent effort to limit strong public response to the incident. Orders to Chinese media that apparently came from propaganda officials have barred journalists from using anything other than Xinhua reports and CCTV images. They also demand reporters who have traveled to the scene return immediately to where they are based.