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Tornado Overturns Chinese Boat, Hundreds Missing

CMA satellite

A passenger ship carrying 458 passengers on China’s Yangtze River was capsized by a tornado, Chinese weather authorities concluded Wednesday.

The Eastern Star passenger line capsized on Sunday, killing at least 65 people with almost 400 still unaccounted for. Strong storms moved through the area, and the Chinese Meteorological Administration (CMA) confirmed an approximately half-mile-wide EF-1 tornado touched down with wind speeds up to 100 miles-per-hour (MPH), overturning the ship filled with mostly elderly tourists.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday that rescuers had begun to cut open the hull of the ship in an attempt to extract survivors, but with more than three days since the ship sank, the likelihood of finding additional survivors is slim. Several more bodies were recovered early Thursday.

Fourteen survivors have been recovered so far, according to Xinhua.

The incident occurred in Jianli, Hubei province, about 100 miles southwest of Wuhan and 600 miles west of Shanghai. The Yangtze River – meaning the “long river” in Chinese – is the world’s third longest and snakes through much of central China.

Tornadoes are known to occur in China, especially in central parts of the country where airmass clashes can occur. But China isn’t typically regarded as a world hotspot for tornadoes, although reliable records on exact tornado counts didn’t appear to be available.

The satellite imagery (photo) shows an upper-level area of low pressure and a front kicking off strong storms in central China, leading to the tornado and the ship’s capsizing. More rain is being forecast for the affected area through Saturday, potentially hampering recovery efforts.

Meteorologist Chris Bianchi – Photo: Chinese Meteorological Administration

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