The death toll from the capsized Eastern Star cruise ship in the Yangtze River has risen as of Wednesday evening local time, according to Chinese authorities, who deployed scores more divers and a large crane as they escalated efforts Wednesday to recover more than 410 people believed to be trapped inside an overturned river cruise ship.
So far 14 people have been rescued.
About 200 divers are searching for the missing passengers, but the underwater search has proven difficult as divers found that most of the doors of the cruise ship rooms were locked and that many passages into the ship have been blocked by debris.
A weather official on Wednesday confirmed that a sudden tornado did occur at the section of China’s Yangtze River where the cruise ship capsized on Monday.
“According to on-the-spot investigation, a tornado struck the area at the time the ship capsized. The tornado measures more than 12 on the Beaufort scale,” said Wu Cuihong, director of Wuhan Central Meteorological Station. “The main part of the tornado was above the surface of the river, sweeping across an area of less than one kilometer. It lasted about 15 to 20 minutes.”
The rescue work will still face a difficult weather in coming days, according to Wu.
“Fog will probably hit the area on June 5, with visibility between 500 and 1000 meters. Precautions should be prepared in advance for rescue work in view of inconvenience caused by wind and low visibility,” Wu said.
Tornados are rare in most parts of China but sometimes occur in provinces including Hubei, where the ship overturned, she added.
“According to historical data of Hubei Province, the average duration of a tornado in our province is 17 minutes, with a wind scale of 12 and a sweeping span of about 500 meters,” said Wu. “In recent decades, tornadoes take place once in five years on average, so it is a small probability event.”
The ship was designed to navigate in Category B inland waterways, and was not able to resist the force of wind in a tornado, said Zhong Shoudao, the Ministry of Transport spokesman at Tuesday’s press conference, which was held in Jianli, in Hubei Province.
“The wind was blowing hard on the ship; if the force of the blowing wind was more than the ship could withstand, then it would have capsized,” Zhong said.
Zhong added that according to the navigation authorities, “Eastern Star” had all the required emergency equipment, but it capsized so quickly that emergency signals did not go off and there was no time to put on life vests, launch rescue boats or warn passengers to jump off the boat.
More than 450 people were on board the Eastern Star on the Yangtze River when it capsized after being hit by a tornado in Jianli, Hubei Province, late Monday night.
Compiled from CCTV, Associated Press, and Reuters wire reports
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