Thursday, 4 June 2015

China boat sinking: 10 more bodies recovered, death toll now 75

A local official says 10 more bodies have been recovered from the overturned ship, bringing the death toll to 75 with more than 360 still unaccounted for.

Jianli county chief Huang Zhen released the figure in an update to reporters on the recovery efforts Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, The Communist Party's Poliburo Standing Committee, the country's highest power, convened a meeting and issued a directive for officials to step up efforts to control public opinion about the disaster response.

It ordered them to both "understand the sorrow of the families" and "concretely preserve social stability."

Some relatives have demanded help from officials in Nanjing and Shanghai to travel to the site in unruly scenes that have drawn a heavy police response.

Bodies are being brought to the Jianli's Rongcheng Crematorium, where at least two relatives of passengers are trying to identify loved ones.

One of them, a woman from the northeastern city of Tianjin who identified herself only by her surname, Zhang, says her mother was aboard the ship. She says authorities told her viewings would not be arranged until later.

"Mom was a wonderful person. She didn't deserve to die like this," Zhang says.

The death toll in the Yangtze River disaster reached 65 on Thursday. More than 370 people remain missing and are feared dead, and 14 have been rescued.

Rescuers have now cut holes into the overturned hull of the cruise ship in three places — near the bow, middle and stern — to search for additional survivors, but have found none so far.

After checking each location, the workers are welding the removed sections of the hull back on and sealing them to maintain the ship's buoyancy and balance.

At the same time, divers are working in three shifts underwater to search the ship's cabins one by one.

The weather has been rainy since last night, but is tapering off as the day goes on.

Earlier Thursday, dressed in white scrubs, dozens of medical workers were standing next to rescuers as they pulled out more bodies from the ship. On the nearby shore of the Yangtze River, relatives of some of the hundreds of victims still unaccounted for cried after being barred entry to the mortuary to seek information about their loved ones.

Access to the site remains blocked by police and paramilitary troops stationed along the Yangtze embankment, and the only information coming out is from the state-run media.

Angry relatives staged a protest near the site and broke through police cordons to demand information.

The Chinese government said rescuers would "take all possible measures" to save the injured and promised a "serious investigation", according to state news agency Xinhua.

"We will never shield mistakes and we'll absolutely not cover up anything," Xu Chengguang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transport, told a news conference.

But the area around the ship was being tightly controlled, with police checkpoints blocking journalists' access to the river and to local hospitals.

And China's Central Propaganda Department instructed editors not to send reporters to the river and only to use state news agency information.

Large numbers of refrigerated coffins were seen being delivered to a local funeral parlour in Jianli, Hubei province, as authorities braced for hundreds more corpses.

The majority of the victims are believed to be elderly.

Scores of relatives of the passengers have travelled to Jianli to be near the wreck, many from Nanjing where the cruise began in late May.

The families have raised questions about the disaster, including how the ship could have sunk so quickly and why the alarm was apparently slow to be raised.

On Wednesday night, several dozen people pushed through police lines set up to control access to the site and marched towards the river. Officials have now promised to take them to the rescue site on Thursday.

Another group of relatives staged a protest in Shanghai, where the tour company most passengers had booked through, Xiehe Travel, is based. Ji Guoxin, whose parents were still missing, said Xiehe Travel had just given them a hotline number and told them to make their own way to Jianli.

Another protester told reporters: "We want somebody from the local government to receive us and tell all family members what we should do."

The relatives are furious that no-one is providing detailed information about the rescue efforts. Hundreds of relatives are holed up in a nearby hotel lobby, watching the same state television reports for information, furious that no-one is providing them with detailed updates on the rescue efforts.


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