BEIJING: Twenty people were killed and one remains missing after hail, freezing rain and high winds hit runners taking part in a 100-kilometre cross-country mountain race in China, local officials said Sunday.
"Abrupt, extreme weather" hit a high-altitude section of the race held in the Yellow River Stone Forest near Baiyin city in northwestern Gansu province around 1pm Saturday, Baiyin city officials said at a briefing.
"At around noon, the high-altitude section of the race between 20 and 31 kilometres was suddenly affected by disastrous weather. In a short period of time, hailstones and ice rain suddenly fell in the local area, and there were strong winds. The temperature sharply dropped," said Baiyin city mayor Zhang Xuchen.
Shortly after receiving messages of help from some participants, marathon organisers dispatched a rescue team that managed to save 18 participants, he said.
At around 2pm, weather conditions worsened and the race was immediately called off as local authorities sent more rescuers to help, Zhang added.
"This incident is a public safety incident caused by sudden changes in weather in a local area," he said, adding that provincial authorities will further investigate its cause.
A further eight runners were being treated in hospital for minor injuries, Zhang said.
State news agency Xinhua earlier reported that some of the runners suffered from hypothermia as a result of the weather.
Temperatures in the mountainous terrain dropped further overnight, Xinhua said, making search and rescue "more difficult".
"As of 3am Sunday, 151 participants have been confirmed to be safe, of which five with minor injuries are being treated in the hospital and in stable condition," it said. Xinhua said a total of 172 people were taking part in the race.
Gansu, one of China´s poorest regions, borders Mongolia to the north and Xinjiang to the west.
Deadly floods and landslides have hit the province in the past, with mudslides reportedly killing well over 1,000 people in one town in 2010.
It is also prone to earthquakes.
Yellow River Stone Forest is famous for its rugged mountain scenery marked by stone stalagmites and pillars, and is used as a location in many Chinese television shows and movies, according to the China Daily.
Its rock formations are believed to be four billion years old, the Daily said.
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