More than 360 people remain missing after 51 more bodies were recovered from the site of the Yangtze River cruise ship disaster in southern China today, bringing the death toll to 77, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Jianli county chief Huang Zhen updated reporters on the ongoing search for the remaining passengers on Thursday morning. The recovery efforts have involved rescuers cutting holes into the overturned hull of the cruise ship in three places — near the bow, middle and stern — to hunt for additional survivors.
After checking each location, the workers are then welding the removed sections of the hull back on and sealing them to maintain the ship's buoyancy and balance. At the same time, hundreds of divers have been searching each of the ship's cabins in turn.
Although the chances of finding anyone else alive after Tuesday's capsizing have all but disappeared, Chinese officials have not yet declared the search over.
Recovered bodies are being brought to the Jianli's Rongcheng Crematorium, where relatives of passengers were trying to identify their loved ones.
One of them, a woman from the northeastern city of Tianjin who identified herself only by her surname, Zhang, said her mother had been aboard the ship. She said authorities told her any viewings would not be arranged until later.
"Mom was a wonderful person. She didn't deserve to die like this," Zhang said.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, the country's highest power, convened a meeting and issued a directive for officials to step up efforts to control public opinion about the disaster response.
Officials were ordered to "understand the sorrow of the families," while "concretely preserv[ing] social stability."
Some relatives had demanded that officials from Nanjing and Shanghai support them in traveling to the site. The resulting unruly scenes drew a heavy police response.
Thursday morning began with rain, as dozens of medical workers — dressed in white scrubs — stood next to rescuers pulling bodies out from the ship.
Access to the site remains blocked by police and paramilitary troops stationed along the Yangtze embankment, and the only information coming out is from the state-run media.
It is believed that 456 people — including crew — were onboard the vessel when it overturned in bad weather on the Yangtze River on Tuesday. The ship, called the Eastern Star, was on an overnight journey between Nanjing and Chongqing when the disaster occurred.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.