by The Associated Press
Disaster teams searched the Yangtze River on Saturday for dozens of bodies of the Eastern Star’s missing passengers and crew, as the death toll in the cruiser’s capsizing rose to nearly 400, making it China’s deadliest boat disaster in nearly seven decades.
Authorities have attributed the overturning of the ship late Monday to sudden, severe winds, but also have placed the captain and his first engineer under police custody.
Passengers’ relatives have raised questions about whether the ship should have continued its cruise after the storm started in a section of Hubei province and despite a weather warning earlier in the evening.
Gallery: Crews Search Capsized Ship
Heavy rains in the Yangtze area over four days beginning Monday have killed 15 people and left eight others missing, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
Hundreds more bodies from the Eastern Star were found overnight and Saturday, bringing the death toll to 396, Hu Kaihong, the vice director-general of the press bureau of the State Council Information Office, told a news conference. A total of 46 people were still missing, and authorities had requested that river traffic and others along the river alert them if they noticed any floating bodies.
Hu said that they were increasing their efforts to search for the missing and had expanded the target area from the middle reaches of the Yangtze more than 600 miles downstream to Shanghai.
The boat had more than 450 people aboard, many of them elderly tourists, for a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing.
Fourteen people survived, including three pulled out by divers from air pockets in the overturned hull on Tuesday.
Disaster teams put chains around the hull and used cranes to roll the banged-up, white and blue boat upright and then gradually lift it out of the gray currents of the Yangtze on Friday.
The Eastern Star disaster became the country’s worst since the sinking of the SS Kiangya off Shanghai in 1948, which is believed to have killed anywhere from 2,750 to nearly 4,000 people.