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World

Hopes Fade For Survivors As Time Passes In China Cruise Ship Disaster

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Hope is fading for the nearly 450 people missing in a cruise ship disaster in China. The government there is preparing coffins, and anger is rising among the passengers' families. Some complain they have been blocked from going to the bank of the Yangtze River to stand vigil where the ship sank. Plus, they have many questions about what is shaping up as China's biggest boating disaster in decades. NPR's Frank Langfitt is there.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: I'm standing on the banks of the Yangtze in a remote section of the river and out in the water is floating the passenger ship that capsized on Monday night. And the workers here are preparing to cut into the hull to try to save any passengers who are still alive and then begin to retrieve bodies.

HU JINWEI: (Foreign language spoken).

LANGFITT: Hu Jinwei spent this morning trying to get to the riverbank. His parents were aboard the ship. But, Hu, who works for a government power company, says at roadblock after roadblock, police turned him away, sometimes rudely.

JINWEI: (Through interpreter) We said our relatives were inside the boat. We just want to go look. We won't interfere with the rescue efforts. The cop said, park here, and if you have the guts, walk there yourself.

LANGFITT: The boat was still more than 10 miles away. Hu never made it. I spoke with him near a roadblock. Hu said he couldn't believe how he was treated.

JINWEI: (Through interpreter) At that time, we were furious. We were very hurt. As a cop and a government official, how can you say things like this?

LANGFITT: Hu is traveling with his cousin, Ni Xuxia. Her parents were aboard the ship as well. She said other cops told the pair to just go to a hotel and watch on TV.

NI XUXIA: (Foreign language spoken).

LANGFITT: A tear rolled down her cheek as she described her frustration.

XUXIA: (Through interpreter) We traveled all the way here. Even if we get a little closer, get a glimpse of the ship, we'll get some comfort in our hearts. My mother and father are both inside the boat, but I can't even see it. I can't get any information.

LANGFITT: Chinese officials say the ship turned over during a tornado but had provided few details about the accident. They've also tried to control information and shape the narrative. When I tried to speak to another family member outside a press conference Tuesday night, an official tried to wrestle away a tape recorder from me and my news assistant. Officials then hustled the family member into a back room. The government has detained the captain and chief engineer of the cruise ship. Both survived the sinking. Hu wonders how the men escaped while most of the passengers, including his parents, apparently remained on the ship.

JINWEI: (Through interpreter) I have a very big doubt. All the old people didn't get off, but the chief engineer, who works at the bottom of the ship, and the captain, ran away.

LANGFITT: Like thousands of other family members and most of the country, Hu is waiting for answers. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Hubei Province, China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.