, JIANLI, China, Jun 4 – Distraught and angry relatives rushed to the site of a capsized cruise ship in China on Thursday seeking news of their loved ones, as rescue workers recovered dozens of dead bodies.
A total of 75 people were confirmed dead after the “Eastern Star” overturned on the Yangtze river in a storm on Monday evening, with hundreds of elderly tourists on board.
Just 14 people have been found alive, some hidden in air pockets, and rescue workers started cutting into the hull of the capsized ship overnight in a last-ditch attempt to find any other survivors trapped inside.
Relatives were being closely monitored by police after they arrived in the local area, and were frustrated at not being allowed to the riverbank to the see the sunken vessel for themselves.
Fears are mounting that the disaster could be China’s worst shipping accident in almost 70 years, as CCTV said on its microblog that some 39 dead bodies had been recovered overnight.
Torrential rain lashed the site in central Hubei province’s Jianli county, and the swift-flowing and murky brown waters of the Yangtze are also proving a huge challenge for rescue divers searching the boat room-by-room.
Work on the perilous operation to cut into the hull was suspended early Thursday due to persistent bad weather that has hampered the rescue effort from the start, state media said. READ: Ship with over 450 on board sinks in China’s Yangtze.
But under two huge cranes, workers later welded giant hooks onto the hull, AFP witnessed, as they prepared to lift the 76.5 metre long (250 feet) vessel in another delicate and risky operation that could destabilise the wreck and send it further down the river.
“If after 72 hours no sign of life is detected, then the boat can be turned over,” rescue commander Wang Zhigang told the official Xinhua news agency.
A total of 75 bodies had been recovered by mid-afternoon Thursday, Jianli official Huang Zhen told a briefing.
The Eastern Star was carrying 456 people most aged over 60, on a tourist trip when it sank in a matter of seconds.
Weather officials said a small but fast-moving tornado hit the area at the time.
Authorities have expanded the search area to include areas 220 kilometres (136 miles) further along the river, as Chinese media reported bodies found dozens of kilometres from the vessel.