WATCH ABOVE: It’s been one week since a cruise ship capsized on the Yangtze river in china. The number of people confirmed dead in the disaster has now risen to 431. Aarti Pole reports.
JIANLI, China — Nearby ships blared horns for three minutes Sunday and rescuers bowed in silence to honor the more than 430 victims of the Yangtze River capsizing, as specialists began working on DNA samples from relatives to identify the dead.
The toll from last Monday’s overturning of the Eastern Star cruise ship rose to 431 dead with 11 people still missing, said Hu Kaihong, the vice director-general of the press bureau of the State Council Information Office. Fourteen people survived, mostly by swimming or drifting. Three were pulled by divers from the overturned hull Tuesday.
After the ship was pulled upright by cranes and thoroughly checked by Saturday, the search for additional bodies turned to the river downstream, Hu said. Authorities planned to expand the search from the Hubei province disaster site as far east as Shanghai, more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away.
Transport Minister Yang Chuantang presided over the ceremony Sunday on the huge crane vessel that had been used to pull the Eastern Star up, saying simply, “Please observe silence.”
Hundreds of military and police personnel and others took off their hats and bowed as vessels blared their horns. State broadcaster CCTV showed some relatives also bowing as they watched the event on television from where they were staying nearby in Jianli county.
Authorities have tightly controlled access to the site and said relatives would be taken there when necessary arrangements had been made. Dozens were driven to a part of the riverbank about 2 kilometers (a mile) away from the disaster site on Saturday to lay flowers, too far away to see the boat.
Sunday marked the seventh day since the tragedy, the first commemorative event in the Chinese cycle of mourning.
Authorities have attributed the overturning of the cruise ship late Monday to a freak storm with tornado-like winds, but also have placed the surviving captain and his first engineer in police custody.
The boat was carrying 456 people, many of them elderly tourists, for a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing.
Wang Hua, who lost her parents in the disaster, said the couple had been enjoying their retirement. Her 77-year-old father, a former judge, made sure they traveled each year, and they had been all around mainland China and to Taiwan.
“They were just ordinary people. Their biggest concern was causing trouble for others,” Wang said in an interview organized by the local propaganda bureau.
Another relative at the interview, Fu Hongli, lost his brother and nephew.
“My brother traveled all the time. There’s no point just milling about at home when you’re retired,” Fu said.
Forensic teams were using DNA matching to identify the remains, but haven’t said how long the process will take.
Passengers’ relatives have raised questions about whether the ship should have continued its voyage after the storm started in a section of Hubei province and despite a weather warning earlier in the evening.
On Saturday night, relatives were taken by bus to an area upriver of the ship, where they burned incense and tossed flowers into the Yangtze in memory of the dead.
The Eastern Star capsizing is China’s worst maritime disaster since the sinking of the SS Kiangya off Shanghai in 1948, which is believed to have killed anywhere from 2,750 to nearly 4,000 people.