BREAKING: China cruise ship packed with grandparents capsizes overnight in cyclone, hundreds still missing

by Joni B. Hannigan |

(REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT)An aerial view shows rescue workers searching on the sunken ship at Jianli section of Yangtze River, Hubei province, China, June 2, 2015. Rescuers fought bad weather on Tuesday as they searched for more than 400 people, many of them elderly Chinese tourists, missing after a cruise boat was buffeted by a freak tornado and capsized on the Yangtze River.

CHINA (Christian Examiner) – Hundreds are missing and several confirmed dead after a small cruise ship carrying 456 people -- mostly grandparents on vacation -- reportedly capsized on the Yangtze River in China's Hubei province overnight.

The ship was caught in a cyclone, which hampered rescue efforts, the BBC reported.

Chinese media said both the captain and the chief engineer survived and were detained. The ship apparently sent out no emergency signal.

(REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT)An injured sailor of the ship which sank at the Jianli section of the Yangtze River is rushed to receive treatment upon arrival at a hospital in Jingzhou, Hubei province, China, June 2, 2015. Rescuers fought bad weather on Tuesday as they searched for more than 400 people, many of them elderly Chinese tourists, missing after a ship capsized on the Yangtze River in what was likely China's worst shipping disaster in almost 70 years.

The Eastern Star sank within minutes, according to the BBC report, with at least 15 survivors found alive inside the submerged hull of the ship.

Most onboard were tourists ranging in age from 50-80 who were traveling about 930 miles from the east to the southwest.

A survivor, tour guide Zhang Hui, told Xinhua state new agency that the ship tossed about violently after passengers gathered in the hallways to avoid heaving rain coming through the cabin windows.

He said he climbed out of a window after having about "30 seconds to grab a life jacket," according to the report.

Reportedly, he was rescued from reeds after floating and hearing others cry for help.

About 150 boats and 4,000 emergency personnel are on the scene, according to reports which also say the boat carried 405 Chinese passengers, five travel agency employees and 46 crew members.

Reuters reported relatives were outside a local government building in Shanghai trying to get information.

Sina News said a young man sobbed by the door of Xiehe Travel.

"Mum and Dad I was wrong, I shouldn't have let you go off on your holiday," the man said.

Although estimates vary widely, there are thought to be as many as 200 million Christians in China, many who are suffering the most intense persecution in a decade.