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Friday, June 5, 2015, 22:13

Yangtze toll jumps to 331

By Agencies

Yangtze toll jumps to 331
Rescuers watch the capsized ship Eastern Star being lifted by cranes on the Yangtze River in Jianli county of Southern China's Hubei province, as seen from across the river from Huarong county of Southern China's Hunan province, June 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

JIANLI, China - The death toll from a Chinese cruise ship that capsized on the Yangtze River during freak weather has climbed to 331 as of 8 am Saturday, after rescuers hoisted it on Friday afternoon.

Only 14 people have been found alive so far, while another 111 people remain missing, according to the rescue headquarters in Jianli, central China's Hubei province.

The Eastern Star cruise ship, carrying 456 people onboard, was on a 11-day trip along the Yangtze River when it was immediately overturned by a tornado on Monday night in Jianli.

More than 3,400 soldiers, 1,700 paramilitary people together with 149 vessels, 59 machines and a helicopter have joined in the rescue mission.

The rescue mission has become an operation to recover hundreds of bodies from the ship, which overturned in a freak tornado on Monday night.

Transport ministry spokesman Xu Chengguang said oil leaking from the ship was found in the river water. Blankets have been placed to help contain it.

A huge net has been placed near the ship and another one a few meters downstream to catch any bodies, Xu said.

Yangtze toll jumps to 331
The Eastern Star cruise ship, which had more than 456 people on board when it overturned on June 1 night on the Yangtze, has been fully raised during the salvage operation in Jianli, China's Hubei province. ( CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO)

"We are already mentally prepared," said a 33-year-old woman surnamed Gao, whose 58-year-old mother was on board the ship.

The Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee called on local authorities to take measures to help grieving families and to "earnestly safeguard social stability".

Hundreds of people, their eyes brimming with tears, knelt in the center of a square in Jianli city on Thursday night clutching candles and flowers.

Hu Kaihong, a government spokesman, told a news briefing there were now more than 1,200 family members in Jianli.

Chinese authorities have attributed the accident to sudden high winds just before 9:30 am, but also have placed the surviving captain and first engineer under police custody.

Passengers' relatives have raised questions about whether the boat should have continued on after the storm started and despite a weather warning earlier in the evening.

An initial investigation found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests on board.

Yangtze toll jumps to 331
The four characters in Chinese "Eastern Star" could be seen painted on the blue hull of the capsized ship as it emerged from water on June 5, 2015. (Photo / Xinhua)

Yangtze toll jumps to 331
Relatives of passengers on board the capsized cruise ship comfort each other during a candle light vigil in Jianli county in southern China's Hubei province, June 4, 2015. (Photo / AP)
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