Storm and hail surprise: 21 killed in an intense running race in Gansu Province, China

Storm and hail surprise: 21 killed in an intense running race in Gansu Province, China
Rescuers help runners who have been injured by severe weather.AFP photo

The 100-kilometer race started on Saturday morning in the Baiyin Tourist District of Gansu on the bank of the Yellow River. Photos posted on social media show the riders in T-shirt and shorts under a cloudy sky. Shortly after noon, during the highest and most difficult stage of the race, a storm fell on the riders.

Participants were on a narrow mountain path when the hail storm broke out and the temperature suddenly dropped. Many riders became hypothermic, and some were unable to descend on their own. 21 of them died instantly. The mountain pass was part of a twenty kilometer stage as there were no possible checkpoints due to the rugged nature.

Organizers launched a major rescue operation with more than 1,200 men and drones with thermal cameras. The search was complicated by landslides. A participant on the Guancha news site testified that the hypothermic riders sheltered in a hut for an hour, after which they were told that ambulances could not reach them and that they would have to disembark on their own. Five of the 21 deceased participants had not been found until Sunday.

Not a natural disaster

There is a lot of criticism of the organizers on Chinese social media. Local weather reports anticipated “moderate to strong winds” and “significant dips in temperature”, however no precautions were taken. “This is not a natural disaster, but a man-made disaster,” one commentator said.

An experienced Ultramarathon runner responded on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, that it was irresponsible to allow participants to leave without a coat. This is mandatory for professional competitions in the mountains. Many tourist areas organize sports competitions to win money. But if there are no guarantees of safety, this place is not suitable for competitions.

At a press conference, the organizers vehemently apologized and took the blame. The Gansu Provincial Government announced an investigation.

China has been hit by more natural disasters in recent days. An earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale in southwestern Yunnan Province on Friday night killed three people and injured 24 others. An earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale occurred in Qinghai Province on Saturday. A bridge collapsed, but there were no casualties.

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