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Wednesday, June 3, 2015, 19:13

Hundreds remain missing

By Zhao Huanxin and Zhao Yinan in Jianli, Hubei and Peng Yining in Beijing
Hundreds remain missing

Zhu Hongmei, 65, is saved from the water near the capsized ship Eastern Star , which overturned in the Jianli section of the Yangtze River in Hubei province on June 1, 2015. (Ding Lin / Xinhua)

Hundreds remain missing

Rescue workers transport the body of a victim of the capsized Eastern Star on June 2, 2015. (Feng Yongbin / China Daily)

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said bodies of 26 victims had been pulled from the wreckage of a ship after the worst recorded ship disaster on the Yangtze River.

Fourteen people have been found alive and 416 passengers remain missing as off Wednesday evening.

The cruise ship Eastern Star capsized in a storm at 9:28 pm on Monday in the section of the Yangtze that cuts through Central China's Hubei province.

The ship turned upside down in the 15-meter-deep water.

A rescue campaign is being coordinated by Premier Li Keqiang's office, but due to a lack of heavy-duty equipment and expert personnel in the area, progress has been slow.

Premier Li on Wednesday morning paid tribute to those killed in the worst recorded ship disaster on the Yangtze River. He came to the rescue site in heavy rain and bowed to the bodies of the deceased.

Seven survivors were rescued from the turbulent Yangtze waters, and the others were pulled from the overturned hull.

Tan Zhenxing, 28, looked harried on Tuesday night as he stood about 13 km from the site. Tan said he was overwhelmed when he heard that the Eastern Star had overturned, as his parents, both in their mid-50s, were on board.

"My father has worked on the ship for more than 10 years, and my mother joined him a year ago," the Chongqing resident said. "I'm hoping for a miracle."

The cruise ship had set out from Nanjing, Jiangsu province, and was on its way to Chongqing in the southwest, with 46 crew members, five tour guides and 405 tourists, all from the Chinese mainland, on board, according to the Yangtze River navigation administration.

Most of the passengers were retirees. The youngest person on the passenger list authorities released was 3 years old and the oldest 83. The majority were aged between 50 and 80.

President Xi Jinping has called for an all-out rescue effort.

Li demanded that all government agencies, especially the Ministry of Transport, quickly contribute resources for the rescue work.

Li stressed that local governments in the area should prepare to deal with the aftermath of the disaster, and he demanded that officials conduct an investigation into the cause of the disaster. He later visited survivors in a local hospital.

Among the survivors were the ship's captain and chief engineer, who were in police custody for possible questioning.

Hundreds remain missing

Premier Li Keqiang talks with Zhu Hongmei at the hospital. (Liu Zhen / China News Service)

Hundreds remain missing

An aerial view shows the rescue scene at the overturned Eastern Star in the Yangtze River. (Cloud Vision / for China Daily)

According to Xinhua News Agency, they claimed the ship was hit by a tornado and tipped over in as little as one minute.

The China Meteorological Administration confirmed on Tuesday that there had been a tornado in the area.

Xinhua said the ship was not overloaded, and that it was equipped with enough life jackets.

More than 3,000 people are participating in the rescue. The Chinese People's Liberation Army navy sent more than 180 divers to the site.

Near Erjitou, about 30 minutes by boat from the site, at least 70 members of a pontoon bridge troop from Wuhan, Hubei province, were waiting for orders.

The troops left Wuhan at around 7 am on Tuesday in a convoy of 20 trucks carrying assault boats, according to Su Junjie, a publicity officer of the unit.

By 6:30 pm, Su said, they were still waiting for their turn to offer help as other rescuers had been diving to search for survivors and were trying to turn the vessel upright.

The search and rescue operation had been made difficult by lingering rain throughout Tuesday.

Liu Yang, who lives near Erjitou, said heavy rain began to hit the area at around 7 pm on Monday. It peaked at around 9 pm, with thunder and lightning strong enough to smash windows and cause a power outage to much of his community.

"We have never seen such bad weather," the 35-year-old said. "And I have never heard of an accident more disastrous than the one last night."

The Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration has launched a safety inspection of passenger vessels, ferries and hazardous goods vessels across the province.

In the monthlong campaign, which started on Tuesday, workers in the sector will be trained on safety issues, review emergency programs, take emergency drills and eliminate flaws in safety management.

The administration will conduct a thorough check of the weather alert issuing system.

June marks the start of the tourism season in China and is part of the storm season featuring high temperatures and frequent rain storms.

Contact the writer at zhaohuanxin@chinadaily.com.cn

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