Chinese rescuers have worked through the night in an increasingly desperate race to find survivors from a capsized cruise ship, with more than 400 people still missing after the boat sank in a storm on the Yangtze River.

By Tuesday night just 14 people had been confirmed as surviving after the Eastern Star rapidly overturned in Hubei province late on Monday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Seven bodies have been recovered from the wreckage, leaving hundreds possibly trapped within the ship which apparently sank in a matter of seconds off Jianli with 458 people on board, state media said.

 Over 400 missing in Yangtze River cruise ship disaster

The disaster could be China's worst shipping accident in nearly 70 years and possibly the worst in East Asia since a ferry sinking in South Korea in April 2014 killed 304 people, most of them children on a school trip.

Heavy torrential rain hampered rescue efforts overnight but the bad weather had eased by Wednesday morning.

Al Jazeera's Adrian Brown, reporting from Jianli, said the Chinese military had taken the lead in operations that included teams of rescuers working in shifts around the clock.

He said they were exploring the possibility of drilling three holes in the upturned ship to reach possible survivors, or to refloat the vessel - a hugely challenging task.

Rescuers pulled at least three survivors from the wreckage on Tuesday.

Chinese media said the passengers were mostly aged over 60. 

More than 3,000 people, including 180 divers from the Chinese navy, were participating in the rescue, according to state media.

Among the survivors were the ship's captain and chief engineer, who were in police custody for possible questioning.

According to Xinhua, they said the ship was hit by a tornado and tipped over in as little as one minute.

A local man surnamed Wang told the AFP news agency the storm on Monday night was the worst he had seen in years.

The cruise ship had set out from Nanjing, Jiangsu province, and was on its way to Chongqing in the southwest, with 46 crew members, five tour guides and 405 tourists, all from the Chinese mainland, on board, the Yangtze River navigation administration said.

 

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies