Relatives of more than 400 people missing after a cruise ship capsized on China's Yangtze River were hoping for a "miracle", as authorities said they were racing against time to find any survivors.
Divers pulled three people alive from inside an overturned cruise ship and searched for other survivors, state media said, giving some small hope to an apparently massive tragedy with well over 400 people still missing on the Yangtze River.
The disaster is one of the country's worst ever shipping accidents, but authorities are following a familiar playbook of media control and online censorship, say independent observers. Eighteen are confirmed dead and over 400 are still missing.
Meanwhile an AP report quotes Chinese weather officials as saying that a small and fast-moving tornado hit the area where the Chinese cruise ship capsized, possibly shedding light on the disaster's cause.
Early investigations showed that tornado winds in Jianli County in the central province of Hubei had a speed of more than 117kmh, China's state meteorological bureau said on its website late Tuesday.
The word used by the meteorological bureau can also be translated as "cyclone" but the account strongly suggested it was a tornado.
The Eastern Star sank “within one or two minutes” of being caught in a tornado in Jianli, central Hubei Province, on Monday night, according to the ship’s captain and chief engineer, who both survived the incident.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that 13 bodies had been pulled from the boat, which was floating with a sliver of its hull jutting from the grey river water. A total of fourteen people have been rescued, but the vast majority of the 456 people on board, many of them elderly tourists, were unaccounted for.
Chinese media continue to publish hourly updates and extensive coverage, but within the confines of the propaganda department’s directives, say observers.
According to a report in the Quartz, officials have ordered outlets not to dispatch their own reporters to the scene and local journalists already there have been recalled. Chinese journalists have also been told to focus on the “positive part” of the story, like successful rescue accounts, and ordered to use only information released by state-run outlets.
Rescuers appear not to have given up hope, even though about 200 divers face difficulties such as cabin doors blocked by tables and beds. There is also the fear that rashly cutting holes in the hull could burst air pockets keeping people alive.
"We`re putting all our efforts into the rescue work," naval commander Hui Dongyan told the official Hubei Daily.