21 dead after extreme weather hit in northwest China

Published on : Friday, May 28, 2021

About twenty-one people have died after extreme weather hit a cross-country ultra-marathon across a mountain in northwest China. The participants on the 60-mile course were subjected to hail, freezing rain and gale-force winds after a sudden drop in temperatures at the Yellow River Stone Forest in Baiyin city, Gansu province.

The race was brought to an emergency stop at around 1pm on Saturday, but not all of the runners could immediately be located on the high-altitude track.

A rescue operation was launched that spanned 24 hours including overnight, and which was concluded on Sunday after the dead bodies of all 21 missing runners were found and transferred away from the site. The search, involving more than 700 people, was made more difficult by the mountain’s complex terrain.

A number of elite runners were among the dead, including the well-known athlete Liang Jing, who had recently won a 100km (60 mile) race in Ningbo. The pictures and videos of the start of the marathon showed some of the runners wearing just shorts and t-shirts under overcast skies. Several participants of the race posted their videos on WeChat groups, raising SOS alerts and requests for help.

The cause of death for most of the runners was believed to be hypothermia. Bayin city mayor Zhang Xuchen apologised as organiser of the event at a news conference.

Of the 172 people who participated in the race, 151 were confirmed safe. Some were treated for minor injuries and were stable.  One of the participants who quit and returned to safety wrote on social media that the race had previously been held four times.

He added that the weather conditions caught the runners off guard and that he had struggled to warm up.

A reporter for state broadcaster said that some of those farther along the path had fallen into mountain crevices and were in need of rescue. They added that the path the runners faced was narrow and reached an altitude of thousands of feet.

According to the China Meteorological Administration in Beijing late on Friday, Baiyin city had been forecast to see moderate-to-strong winds from Friday night through Saturday.

But another weather report on the website of the provincial weather services predicted a “significant” drop in temperature in most parts of Gansu till Sunday.

The contrast in weather reports, along with the lack of contingency planning by the organisers of the event and the Baiyin government, has sparked public outrage on Chinese social media.

Several also questioned the accuracy of the weather forecast and why it was neglected before starting a large-scale marathon.

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