Cruise ship capsize: China confirms force 12 tornado

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang ordered an investigation into why a the cruise ship Eastern Star, carrying more than 450 people, capsized late Monday in the Yangtze river as rescuers continued the search for survivors.

Of those aboard, fourteen had been rescued and seven confirmed dead by early this morning, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It may prove to be China’s worst maritime accident in seven decades, Xinhua said.

Weather has so far been the only cause raised for the vessel’s capsizing, with Xinhua citing the ship’s captain and chief engineer, who were rescued, as saying that a tornado had stuck them. China’s Meteorological Administration confirmed yesterday that a tornado, with force 12 winds on the Beaufort Wind scale, had hit the area at the same time as when the ship capsized, according to Xinhua.

Force 12 is the strongest classification of winds on the Beaufort scale. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes such conditions as “air filled with foam, waves over 45 feet, sea completely white with driving spray, visibility greatly reduced.”

The cruise ship, identified as the Eastern Star, was traveling westward to Chongqing from the city of Nanjing when it capsized in Jianli county in the central province of Hubei.

Premier Li yesterday ordered the State Council, China’s cabinet, to establish a team to investigate why the ship overturned.

The captain and chief engineer have been detained and are being questioned.

Stories of the few rescued so far have filled Chinese media. Zhang Hui, a 43-year-old survivor, told Xinhua he floated more than 10 hours after being tossed from the ship. He recounted the wind and rain suddenly turning violent, flooding the ship before the vessel suddenly tipped, he said.

Zhang, who can’t swim, was saved by a life vest after being repeatedly swallowed by waves and unable to breath.

More than 4,600 people including hundreds of divers have been mobilized to search for survivors of the disaster amid bad weather.

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