PEKING -- Chinese rescuers Wednesday abandoned the search for survivors of a ferry that capsized in a violent storm, killing at least 147 people in what the captain called an 'upside down' hell.
Only 86 of the more than 200 passengers and 32 crew members were rescued after the 118-foot, two-deck Red Star 312 overturned Tuesday in the Sanshui River.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday 62 people swam to the river banks or were rescued by others. Another 23 people were saved when rescuers heard them beating on the bottom of the capsized boat. The agency also said another surviving passenger was found but it did not say, when, where or how.
Most of the survivors, including 66 who were hospitalized, were rescued in the first 16 hours after the disaster in an operation involving hundreds of government workers and troops.
'We don't think anymore can be alive,' said an official in Guangdong province. 'The only work being done now is salvage work.'
Authorities said a final death toll would be tallied once the ferry is turned upright and trapped bodies are counted. Several bodies, including those of children, have been recovered, authorities said.
The ferry, less than two years old, was making an 46-mile overnight cruise from the provincial capital of Canton to the mountainous tourist attraction of Zhaoqing when it ran into a violent thunderstorm and upended early Tuesday.
The accident was the second worst ferry disaster in southern China in three years. In 1980, a ferry sank off the Guangdong coast, killing 267 people.
In an interview with the Hong Kong Standard newspaper, the surviving ferry captain, Yuan Bingcai, said the vessel ran into strong waves and a violent thunderstorm.
'We could hardly steer,' Yuan was quoted as saying. 'Suddenly we started listing to port side and then the world went topsy-turvy. There was a crashing sound and the vessel capsized.'
'Within minutes it was hell upside down,' he said.
Unconfirmed news reports said up to 10 of the survivors were from Hong Kong or Macao. Officials said there were no known non-Asians aboard.
Officials believed most passengers were asleep and did not have time to grab life preservers or jump overboard to escape.
China's official Xinhua News Agency did not report the sinking for more than 36 hours. National and local newspapers did not report the accident.
The mishap coincided with an international tourism conference in Peking attended by thousands of foreign delegates. Chinese tourism officials are stressing safety and service as features of travel in China.