China mourns Yangtze shipwreck victims as search continues

2015-06-07 18:16Xinhua Editor: Wang Fan
Hundreds of rescue workers stand towards the battered boat during a three-minute silent tribute to the victims at around 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 7, 2015. (Photo/China News Service)

Hundreds of rescue workers stand towards the battered boat during a three-minute silent tribute to the victims at around 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 7, 2015. (Photo/China News Service)

Ship horns wailed as hundreds of people gathered in the drizzle Sunday to mourn the victims of the Eastern Star disaster. [Special coverage]

More than 500 rescue workers and government officials at the site bowed their heads during a three-minute silence Sunday, the seventh day since the ship capsized with the loss of more than 430 souls. According to Chinese tradition, the seventh day is a key occasion to mourn the passing of the dead.

At around 9 a.m., following an announcement from Minister of Transport Yang Chuantang, rescue workers stopped what they were doing and removed their hats to face the salvaged vessel.

They set up a table with candles and chrysanthemums on the large crane vessel that dragged the ship from its muddy grave Thursday night.

"We are all here with families of victims to go through the pain of losing their loved ones with them," rescue diver Guan Dong said.

Families of the victims prayed for their loved ones on the riverbank or in their hotels.

On the riverbank, Guan Yuan, the daughter of a couple lost in the tragedy, held a picture of her parents, allowing them to take a last glimpse of their unfinished trip. The first long trip her parents took after retirement turned out to be their last. "My parents rarely travelled to save money for my education," she said.

On the day before they boarded the ship, her mother sent her an email asking her to hurry her towards marriage, saying how willing she was to look after grandchildren.

"I wish this was a nightmare, but nothing happens when I wake up," Guan said.

On the riverbank, relatives of the victims lit candles, threw bouquets of chrysanthemums into the river, and called out the names of the lost.

Yin had four relatives perish in the disaster. He knelt to the ship, asking, "Mom, how could you leave me alone? I have so many important moments in my life to share with you."

Wu Jianqiang, 58, one of the survivors, lost his wife. "I know you will not come back, but I really hope I could see you one last time," he cried when the ship horns sounded.

Jianli, once virtually unknown, has attracted worldwide attention. In the early morning, more than 1,500 cars with yellow ribbons there began to collect families of the victims and rescue workers from hotels or the rescue site. The kindness and support of local people gave some warmth to those in need and in grief.

Qu Zhigang, an organizer of volunteers in Jianli, said, "We hope the dead can rest in peace."

Authorities in Jianli are planning to build a memorial for the deadly shipwreck.

By Sunday evening, 432 bodies have been found and 10 people remain missing. Fourteen survived.

Hu Kaihong, deputy director of the Press Bureau of the State Council Information Office, told a news conference Sunday that the search is continuing and authorities are matching the DNA of the victims with blood samples provided by their relatives.

Rescuers are still searching along the Yangtze River from Jianli where the ship sank, 1,400 km downstream to Shanghai.

Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai extended his condolences Saturday to relatives of the victims, asking that whatever help relatives might need, including psychological counselling and a thorough investigation, be provided as soon as possible.

People are grieving and mourning the victims online too.

"Hopefully there is no storm and horror in heaven. Hopefully those who are alive will understand better the meaning of life," read one comment online.

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