Twenty-one runners have died after extreme weather struck a long-distance race in north-western China.
Many of the stranded runners reportedly suffered from hypothermia when high winds and freezing rain hit participants in the 100km ultramarathon in the Yellow River Stone Forest, a popular tourist attraction near Baiyin city in Gansu province, on Saturday.
The runners set off on Saturday morning, with many of them wearing just shorts and T-shirts. About three hours after the start, a mountainous section of the race was hit by hail, heavy rain and gales, which caused temperatures to plummet.
The runners were racing on an extremely narrow mountain path at altitudes reaching 2,000-3,000m. When the bad weather struck, some of them fell off the trail into deep mountain crevices, according to a reporter for state broadcaster CCTV.
The race was halted when some of the 172 runners went missing, and a rescue operation was launched.
Officials said 151 runners are now confirmed safe, although eight of them are injured.
Surviving participants said the forecast had shown some wind and rain was anticipated, but nothing as extreme as what they experienced.
One runner, Mao Shuzhi, told Reuters news agency she was about 24km into the race and had not yet reached the mountains when the weather changed.
“The rain was getting heavier and heavier,” she said. She decided to head back to her hotel, having had previous bad experiences with hypothermia, but others carried on or were already in worst-hit areas.
Many runners reportedly lost their way on the route as the foul weather affected visibility.
More than 1,200 rescuers were deployed, assisted by thermal-imaging drones and radar detectors, according to state media.
The operation continued through the night into Sunday morning, during which time a further drop in temperature made the search even more difficult, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
The deaths have sparked public outrage on Chinese social media, with anger mainly directed at the Baiyin city government. There is much unhappiness over the lack of contingency planning as the city’s local branch of the National Early Warning Information Center had warned for the previous three days of hail and strong winds.
Liang Jing, an ultramarathon champion, and Huang Guanjun, who won the men’s hearing-impaired marathon at China’s 2019 National Paralympic Games, were among the victims, state-run media reported.