Update as of 11:41 p.m. EDT: The death toll in the Yangtze River ship capsize has climbed to 18, Chinese state media CCTV reported Wednesday, adding that 14 people were rescued from the “Eastern Star,” which was reportedly carrying 456 people.
Over 150 divers are reportedly conducting search-and-rescue operations in the Yangtze River to locate more passengers from the overturned cruise ship, which went down Monday night in rough weather.
— CCTVNEWS (@cctvnews) June 3, 2015
Divers pulled seven bodies and 14 people alive from the wreckage of an upturned Chinese cruise ship in the Yangtze River early Wednesday, but there are more than 430 people still missing and dozens feared dead, China’s state-run Xinhau news agency reported. Many passengers were elderly Chinese tourists, but there were some as young as 3 on board the Eastern Star when it capsized during a freak tornado Monday night in southern Hubei province.
A team of 4,000, including police, firefighters and soldiers from the Chinese Navy, are involved in the search and rescue mission, which has been hampered by strong winds and heavy rain. More than 200 divers are combing through the ship’s compartments for survivors.
Among the handful of passengers rescued was an elderly woman who was trapped in an air pocket in the ship. Relatives of those on board were outraged over the apparent lack of information and the grim prospect of never seeing family members again. The catastrophe could be China’s worst shipping accident in almost 70 years and potentially the worst in East Asia since a ferry sank in South Korea in April 2014, killing 304 people, many of them children on a school outing.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has called for “regular and transparent updates” on the rescue and investigation. China’s weather bureau said a twister had pounded Jianli county where the passenger ship was sailing, a rare event in the East Asian country where tornados can occur but are uncommon, Reuters reported.
The Eastern Star, which had 456 people on board, overturned “within one or two minutes,” its captain told Xinhau news agency. A survivor said the ship had capsized because of a strong storm with heavy rains that allowed water to leak into the windows, according to the state-run press agency. “Just hang in there a little longer, I told myself,” said Zhang Hui, 43, who struggled to keep awake in the cold water after missing his first chance of getting saved.