Emotions run high as relatives await bodies from Yangtze ship disaster

A police cordon outside the Rongcheng crematorium in Jianli county, Hubei province. Members of the media were barred from entering the premises. -- ST PHOTO: KOR KIAN BENG
A police cordon outside the Rongcheng crematorium in Jianli county, Hubei province. Members of the media were barred from entering the premises. -- ST PHOTO: KOR KIAN BENG
A police cordon outside the Rongcheng crematorium in Jianli county, Hubei province. Members of the media were barred from entering the premises. -- ST PHOTO: KOR KIAN BENG
A police cordon outside the Rongcheng crematorium in Jianli county, Hubei province. Members of the media were barred from entering the premises. -- ST PHOTO: KOR KIAN BENG
A relative of a missing passenger aboard the capsized ship cries on the banks of the Jianli section of Yangtze River in Hubei province, China, on June 3, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A relative of a missing passenger aboard the capsized ship cries on the banks of the Jianli section of Yangtze River in Hubei province, China, on June 3, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Emotions ran high outside a crematorium here on Thursday morning as grieving relatives waited for the bodies of their loved ones who died in a Yangtze cruise ship sinking.

Police officers were stationed along a road leading to the Rongcheng crematorium located in the south-east of Jianli county and at least 40km from the site where the Eastern Star cruise ship carrying 456 people capsized and sank on Monday night.

The latest death toll stands at 65 deaths and 14 survivors, with 39 bodies found since Wednesday night after rescuers hoisted the 76.5-m-long vessel and cut holes in the overturned hull for frogmen to enter.

Reporters were barred from entering the crematorium which saw numerous hearses leaving and some returning with body bags. Some hearses were brought in from other cities such as Wuhan and Yichang.

Some 200 coffins have been transported to the crematorium since Wednesday and more being delivered and made.

In a tent set up outside the entrance, a woman surnamed Zhang entered and demanded that officials let her see her mother's body.

"Why can't I see it now?" she yelled as over 100 bystanders, mostly locals, watched on from outside.

The accident, described as possibly China's worst shipping mishap in 70 years, has also prompted do-gooders to come forward.

Some 100 car owners and taxi drivers in Jianli are reportedly offering their vehicles - marked by yellow ribbons tied to their side mirrors - to ferry anguished relatives around.

Another volunteer is Mr Wang Jiancai, 40, who travelled here from nearby Xiantao town and has been helping journalists and next of kin with directions.

He told The Straits Times that he often swam in the Yangtze river near his home and has never heard of cyclones on Asia's longest river. Cyclones have been cited as a key reason why the cruise ship plying the popular route from eastern Nanjing city to south-western Chongqing city sank.

A naval commander was quoted in media reports on Wednesday morning as citing a 60 to 70 per cent rate of fatality among those still missing, leaving some hopes for next of kin.

But some of them told The Straits Times that they are prepared for the worst given how it is nearing the 72-hour mark since the accident occurred.

To them, the most important thing now is to see the bodies of their loved ones and to bring them home.

"My parents went on the tour happily. They might be unable to go home alive but I want to make sure they go home. I can't let them become lost souls outside," said Mr Hu Jinwei, 33, whose father Ju Shujing, 72, and mother Xu Yingshun, 58, both locals of the coastal Changzhou city, were on board the cruise.