Severe weather kills runners in China cross-country race

(AP) - Twenty-one people running a mountain cross-country race have died in northwestern China after hail, freezing rain and gale winds hit the high-altitude track.

Hundreds of personnel were called in for the rescue effort after participants suffered from physical discomfort and the sudden drop in temperature.

The runners were racing on an extremely narrow mountain path at an altitude reaching 2,000-3,000 metres in Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin city in Gansu province

It was a relatively established course, having been held four times, according to an account posted online by a participant in the race who quit and managed to make his way to safety.

In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, rescuers walk into the accident site to search for survivors in Jingtai County of Baiyin City, northwest China's Gansu Province, Sunday, May 23, 2021. More than a dozen of people running a mountain marathon have died in northwestern China after hail, freezing rain and gale-force winds hit the high-altitude race, state media reported Sunday. (Fan Peishen/Xinhua via AP)
In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, rescuers walk into the accident site to search for survivors in Jingtai County of Baiyin City, northwest China's Gansu Province, Sunday, May 23, 2021. More than a dozen of people running a mountain marathon have died in northwestern China after hail, freezing rain and gale-force winds hit the high-altitude race, state media reported Sunday. (Fan Peishen/Xinhua via AP)

But the weather had caught them off guard, and on the morning of the race on Saturday, he already sensed things were not normal.

The runners were not dressed for winter-like conditions, many wearing short-sleeved tops.

“I ran two kilometres before the starting gun fired to warm up … but the troublesome thing was, after running these two kilometres, my body still had not heated up,” the competitor said in a first-person account that had been viewed more than 100,000 times on his WeChat account Wandering about the South.

The most difficult section, from mile 15 to mile 22, climbed 1,000 metres.

There, he said the path was just a mix of stones and sand, and his fingers grew numb from the cold.

When he finally decided to turn back, he already felt dazed.

He said he was able to make it to safety and met rescue crew. He did not respond to a request for comment left on his social media account.

Those farther along the path, who needed rescue, had fallen off deep into mountain crevices, according to a reporter for state broadcaster CCTV.

Video footage showed rescuers in winter jackets in the pitch dark night searching with flashlights along steep hills and narrow paths.

Baiyin city Mayor Zhang Xuchen held a news conference later on Sunday and profoundly apologised as the organizer of the event.

“We express deep condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and the injured,” he said.