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Hundreds missing, many elderly tourists, after ship capsizes on China’s Yangtze

(Reuters)…Rescuers fought bad weather on Tuesday as they searched for more than 400 people, many of them elderly Chinese tourists, missing after a cruise boat was buffeted by a freak tornado and capsized on the Yangtze River.

The accident on Monday night is likely to end up as China’s worst shipping disaster in almost 70 years.

Divers and other rescue workers pulled five people they found trapped in the upturned hull of the four-deck Eastern Star, a fraction of the 458 people state media reported were on board when the ship capsized.

Distraught relatives of some of the passengers scuffled with officials in the city of Shanghai, where many of those on board booked their trips, angry about what they said was a lack of information.

Dozens of rescue boats battled wind and rain to reach the ship, which lay upturned in water about 15 meters (50 feet) deep.

The Xinhua news agency said rescuers could hear people calling for help from inside the ship’s hull and television showed rescuers cutting through it with an angle grinder.

One of the people pulled from the capsized boat was a 65-year-old woman. Divers fixed breathing equipment to her nose and mouth to bring her up from under the water.

About another dozen people had been rescued and six bodies recovered, media reported, leaving more than 430 people unaccounted for.

China’s weather bureau said a tornado hit the area where the boat was, a freak occurrence in a country where tornados do happen but are not common.

The disaster could bring a bigger toll than the sinking of a ferry in South Korea in April 2014 that killed 304 people, most of them children on a school trip.

The People’s Daily, which published a passenger manifest on its microblog, said those on board the Eastern Star ranged in age from three to more than 80.

Tour guide Zhang Hui, 43, told Xinhua the boat sank very fast and he scrambled out a window in torrential rain, clutching a life vest as he could not swim.

“Wave after wave crashed over me; I swallowed a lot of water,” Zhang said, adding that he was unable to flag down passing boats and finally struggled ashore as dawn broke holding onto a branch.

President Xi Jinping had ordered that no efforts be spared in the rescue and Premier Li Keqiang went to the scene of the accident in central Hubei province, Xinhua said.

About 60 family members gathered outside a travel agency in Shanghai and demanded information.

“I only found out about this on the television news while I was at work and I came here,” said 35-year-old Wang Sheng, whose said his mother and father were on board. “I cried all the way here and here I can’t find anyone, the door is locked.”

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