Yangtze ferry disaster: Small tornado hit area where ship sank, Chinese weather officials say

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Update

June 04, 2015, 12:25 p.m.

A small, fast tornado hit the area where a Chinese cruise ship capsized, leaving 65 dead and more than 400 missing, according to weather officials.

The death toll rose to 26 overnight as 39 more bodies were recovered from the ship, state broadcaster CCTV said on its microblog.

The first surveys showed that the tornado winds Monday in Jianli County in central Hubei province had a speed of more than 117 kilometers per hour, China’s state meteorological office said on its website on Tuesday.

Officials said they could confirm that the extreme weather event hit the Yangtze River that day, filling the Eastern Star ship with water within minutes and sinking it.

The tornado lasted between 15 and 20 minutes and was about a mile wide, according to the website’s report citing weather forecasters.

It was “regional, small-scale and came all of a sudden,” the report said, without specifying the exact location of the tornado.

The report matches a story given by the captain of the overthrown Eastern Star that the ship was hit by bad weather when it sank.

Chief forecaster Yu Xiaoding reportedly said it likely ranked “above EF-1,” or a “moderately damaging” tornado, according to the widely used Fujita Enhanced Scale.

He said the tornado was likely created by a mixture of prevailing winds and heavy rain in the area, which caused an air column to start.

Tornadoes are rare in most parts of China, but do occasionally occur in provinces like Hubei, where the ferry has sunk, he added.

Wu Cuihong, head of the Wuhan Central Weather Station, also said tornadoes were rare in the province.

“In recent decades, tornadoes have occurred once every five years on average,” she said in a briefing. “So this is a low probability event.”

A spokesperson for the office said relevant officials could not comment as they had been sent to Hubei.

Family members with missing loved ones, however, questioned whether the explanation constituted a form of cover-up and began arriving at the river site to observe the rescue efforts firsthand.

Photo:
A forklift unloads a truck with coffins in a mortuary after a sinking cruise ship on the Yangtze River, China. (Reuters)

Rescuers cut the hull, the death toll rises to 65

Rescuers began cutting the hull of the ship on Wednesday, state media said, in a desperate effort to locate survivors as the death toll reached at least 65.

Li Qixiu, from the Naval Engineering University, told China’s state news agency Xinhua that divers had attached steel cables to the hull and the plan was to support the body of the boat with cranes while rescuers searched the interior.

“The ship sank in a very short period of time, so there could be air trapped in the hull,” Li said, which “means there could still be survivors.”

It would be important to keep the ship stable to prevent it from sinking further during the delicate operation, he told Xinhua.

State media said 14 people, including the ship’s captain, had been rescued, and more than 400 were still missing and possibly trapped inside the ship.

The Yangtze search area was extended up to 220 kilometers downstream, state television said, suggesting that many bodies could have been washed away from where the ship sank into the swollen river. rain.

Rescuers walked out alive after ferry sank in Yangtze River

Photo:
A man was released alive by rescuers after a ship sank in the Jianli section of the Yangtze River on June 2, 2015. (Reuters: China Daily)

Three of the bodies were found 50 km near the town of Yueyang in neighboring Hunan province, state media said.

Rescuers did not appear to have given up hope, although around 200 divers encountered difficulties such as cabin doors blocked by tables and beds.

“We are putting all our efforts into the rescue work,” Marine Commander Hui Dongyan told the official Hubei Daily.

The ship was on an 11-day trip upstream from Nanjing City, near Shanghai, to Chongqing.

While the People’s Daily newspaper said the ship passed authorities’ inspections in Chongqing last month, in 2013 it was investigated and detained by authorities due to flaws, according to reports. documents from a local maritime surveillance body.

The Nanjing Maritime Safety Administration investigated Eastern Star as part of a passenger ferry and tour boat safety campaign and detained the vessel along with five other vessels, according to three documents released on the office website.

The documents did not give any details about the nature of the defects related to Eastern Star, but said the issues had been reported to the Chongqing Marine Safety Bureau.

The ship’s captain and chief engineer were arrested by police for questioning. An initial investigation revealed that the vessel was not overloaded and had sufficient life jackets on board.

ABC / son

The subjects:

maritime, accidents, catastrophes-and-accidents, cyclone, weather, china, asia

First publication

June 03, 2015, 8:56 p.m.


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