At least 21 people died in extreme cold during an ultramarathon in northwest China’s Gansu province, sparking outrage over the lack of contingency plans for the event on Sunday.
The 100-kilometer race started on Saturday in an area at a bend in the Yellow River, known for its sheer cliffs and rock columns. The route would take runners through canyons and hills on an arid plateau at an elevation of over 1,000 meters.
The race started at 0900 local time (0100 GMT) with runners dressed in T-shirts and shorts under cloudy skies, according to photos posted on social media.
Around noon on Saturday, a section of the race was hit by hail, freezing rain and gales that sent temperatures plummeting, Baiyin town officials said in a briefing on Sunday.
“The rain was getting stronger and stronger,” said Mao Shuzhi, who was at the time about 15 miles into the race. Shivering with cold, he turned back before the high-altitude section, due to previous bad experiences with hypothermia.
“At first I felt a little regretful, thinking that it might have been a temporary downpour, but when later I saw the strong winds and the rain through my hotel room window, I felt good that I had made the decision,” Mao told Reuters.
Due to the change in climate, a huge rescue effort was launched, with the dispatch of more than 1,200 people assisted by thermal imaging drones, radar detectors and demolition teams, according to local press.
A landslide caused by bad weather also hampered rescue efforts, authorities said in Baiyin, about 1,000 km west of Beijing.
A total of 172 people participated in the race. As of Sunday it had been confirmed that 151 participants were safe. The last missing runner was found dead on Sunday morning, bringing the death toll to 21, state media reported.
The deaths sparked public outrage on Chinese social media, with anger directed primarily at the Baiyin government and discontent over the lack of contingency plans.
“Why didn’t the government read the weather forecast and do a risk assessment?” Wrote one person. “This is a man-made calamity. Even if the weather has had an unexpected change, where were the contingency plans?”
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