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Yangtze Cruise-Ship Disaster: Among the Worst Thunderstorm Tolls on Record?

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A picturesque vacation for hundreds of Chinese tourists turned into a nightmare on June 1, when high winds associated with an intense thunderstorm capsized the Oriental Star cruise ship in 50-foot-deep water on the Yangtze River in Hubei Province, southwest of Wuhan, at around 9:30 pm local time. As of Tuesday afternoon, only 14 people had been rescued from about 450 reportedly on board, most of them retirees on a multiday scenic cruise from Nanjing to Chongqing. The disaster appears set to become China’s deadliest ship-related accident in almost 70 years. It’s unclear whether the cruise ship was sunk by a tornado or by a microburst, but in either event, the death toll could end up among the largest on record associated with a single thunderstorm. A 2011 post by WU weather historian Christopher Burt showed less than 10 tornadoes worldwide that inflicted a greater toll than the potential 400-plus deaths abroad the Oriental Star. As we’ll see below, the event also brings to mind a similar U.S. tragedy almost 40 years ago.



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