At least 16 dead as extreme weather hits China cross-country race

At least 16 runners dead as extreme weather hits China cross-country race report

Twenty-one people were killed when extremely cold weather struck during an ultramarathon on Saturday in rugged Gansu province in northwestern China, state media reported on Sunday, sparking public outrage over the lack of contingency planning.

According to the rescue headquarters, at about 1 p.m. Saturday, hails, freezing rain and gales hit the area of the race's high-altitude stage between 20 to 31 km.

Participants suffered from loss of temperature due to the sudden drop in air temperature.

"As of 3am Sunday, 151 participants have been confirmed to be safe, of which five with minor injuries are being treated in the hospital and in stable condition", it said.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, emergency personnel and vehicles wait on standby at the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin in northwestern China's Gansu Province on Sunday.

The event was canceled after strong winds, rain and hail hit shortly after midday, causing runners to fall ill near the mountain peak about 30 kilometers from the starting point.

A massive rescue effort was initiated, with over 1,200 rescuers dispatched, assisted by thermal-imaging drones, radar detectors and demolition equipment, according to state media. "While descending the mountain, I was already experiencing hypothermia symptoms". "When the wind was the strongest, I had to grasp the ground with both my hands to avoid being blown over", said a survivor, who requested anonymity.

Provincial authorities have set up an investigation team to look into the cause of the incident, state media reported, as questions swirled over why organisers apparently ignored extreme weather warnings from the city's Early Warning Information Centre in the lead up to the race, which attracted 172 runners.

Temperatures in the mountainous terrain dropped further overnight, Xinhua said, making search and rescue "more difficult".

"It was very hot one day before the race, and although the weather forecast said there would be wind and moderate rain in Baiyin on Saturday, everybody believed it would be mild", Mao said. The runners were not dressed for winter-like conditions, many wearing short-sleeved tops. "Even if the weather is unexpected, where were the contingency plans?"

'A few people have already lost consciousness and are foaming at the mouth, ' wrote one unidentified participant.