Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has called for "all-out efforts" and an "overnight battle" to save lives following a fatal cruise ship accident on the Yangtze River late Monday night.
There were over 450 people onboard the Eastern Star when it sank "within one or two minutes" after being hit by a tornado in Jianli, Hubei Province, according to the ship's captain and chief engineer, who both survived.
As of Tuesday night, 14 people had been rescued, with seven others confirmed dead and about 430 missing in what could be the worst shipping disaster for nearly seven decades.
More than 4,600 rescuers, including hundreds of divers, battled bad weather on Tuesday as they searched for the missing passengers, many of them elderly tourists.
Chairing a meeting on the rescue and emergency response mission en route to the accident site by air on Tuesday morning, the premier stressed that saving lives should be the top priority.
He instructed rescuers to "mobilize all resources available, take every possible measure and race against time" in the search and rescue missions.
He also ordered that the flow of water from the Three Gorges Dam on the upper stream of the Yangtze River be controlled to help the rescue work.
Li also called for regular and transparent updates on the rescue and investigation, and said authorities must ensure adequate funding and personnel to conduct rescue work.
The Eastern Star was carrying 405 passengers, five tour guides, and 46 crew when buffeted by a tornado and subsequently sinking on the Jianli section of the Yangtze.
Most passengers were tourists from Shanghai and its neighboring province of Jiangsu, aged between 3 and 83, with most in their 60s and 70s.
The ship left the eastern city of Nanjing on Thursday for Chongqing on the upper reaches of the river.
Boarding a commanding vessel moments after his arrival in Jianli, Li again stressed that nothing was more precious than people's lives, urging rescuers to waste no time and save as many lives as they could.
The premier demanded that more frogmen dive under after he saw two Navy divers pull a survivor from inside the overturned ship at around 1 p.m. Tuesday.
He also ordered authorities to widen the riverside roads so heavy rescue machinery could get closer.
Local governments must be prepared to handle the aftermath of the shipping accident, he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Li visited several survivors at a local hospital, including 65-year-old Zhu Hongmei who was rescued by divers and 35-year-old Jiang Geng, who floated on the river for four hours before being rescued.
At a late-night meeting, Li demanded an "overnight battle," urging divers to keep combing ship compartments for more miracles.
Rescuers must race against the clock and shall not give up as long as there is still hope, he said.
Li ordered deployment of more rescue equipment, medical workers and psychological therapists, and stressed coordination of various parties joining the rescue.
He also stressed caring for passengers' families and told the State Council to form an investigation team on the cause of the incident.
(Xinhua News Agency June 3, 2015)