Central China ferry toll climbs to 11

Updated: 2011-09-11 07:42

(China Daily)

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Central China ferry toll climbs to 11

Relatives of a missing child cry in a boat on Saturday in Shaoyang, Hunan province. As of Saturday night, at least 11 people died from the accident including nine students. [Photo by Guo Guoquan / for China Daily]

SHAOYANG, Hunan - The death toll from a ferry that capsized on Friday carrying students on a holiday trip has risen from eight to 11, officials said on Saturday.

Nine students and two adults drowned after the ferry carrying 50 people, mostly students returning home for the Mid-Autumn Festival weekend, capsized at 3:20 pm on Friday in the Fuyi River, said Chen Wenhua, a publicity official of Shaoyang city in Central China's Hunan province.

Workers were still searching for one missing on Saturday, after 38 were rescued with 20 being injured, Chen said.

Three government officials have been removed from their posts. Wu Shancheng, deputy head of Shaoyang, and Tang Xianglong, head of the Tangtianshi township, were sacked on Saturday afternoon, the Shaoyang county government announced in a statement. A maritime official in Shaoyang city, He Jianhua, was also sacked.

An initial investigation by the Shaoyang government showed that the ferryboat capsized and sank because it was blocked by iron cables in the river. Witnesses said the iron cables - used for dredgers in the river - sometimes were hidden in the water, unable to be seen.

Investigators also found that overloading contributed to the capsizing and sinking of the boat. Xinhua News Agency reported that the ferry is approved to carry only 14 passengers, but 50 people including two boat owners were on board when the accident happened.

Witnesses said the boat was chartered by two schools in the town of Tangtianshi to send the students back home across the river for the Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional Chinese holiday for family reunions that falls on Monday this year.

All nine student victims are girls from the two schools, the newspaper reported.

An investigation is under way, and the two boat owners, Yin Xixiang and Yin Xinquan, who survived the accident, are now in police custody, according to the Shaoyang government's publicity department.

On Saturday, 10 bodies, all covered with white blankets, were lined up at the bank of the river. Another student was sent to a nearby hospital but later died after treatment failed.

As for the survivors, the thrilling moment in deep water will probably linger in their mind forever.

Lying on the sickbed in the Shaoyang County People's Hospital, second grader Guo Meitao from the Tangtianshi Town Middle School could not help sobbing several times while recalling how she had rescued her grandmother.

The 14-year-old girl said she was taking the ferryboat home with her younger brother and their grandmother.

"The boat left the pier and proceeded for a while, then it suddenly ran into something and capsized," Guo said.

Her 7-year-old brother managed to swim and crawl frantically onto a sand pile in the middle of the river.

"I realized that my grandma was still in the water, so I hysterically dragged her by her hair and swam towards the sand pile, too," Guo said.

With tears in eyes, the 63-year-old grandma said she would have been among the victims if not for her granddaughter.

"I was scared to death. I tried hard to cling to the boat when it capsized and swallowed some water," the grandma said.

They stayed on the top of the sand pile for about half an hour, along with dozens of survivors, until a nearby sand dredger came over to ferry them to safety. On a nearby sickbed in the hospital corridor on Saturday were two girls, Li Haiyan and Li Xianping, both 13, from the same high school where Guo studies. They were both on a drip, lying motionlessly, with arms on their eyes to block the light.

Li Haiyan's mother said her daughter was rescued by a man, who swam into the capsized boat and dragged her out. "My daughter was badly drowned and she had dark lips and a black face when I first saw her in the hospital," the middle-aged woman said.

Li Xianping, her niece, managed to escape by herself, holding a piece of wood, she said.

Witnesses also said a student from the boat pulled two people out of the water but drowned himself, apparently out of exhaustion, when he was trying to rescue a third person.

China Daily - Xinhua