Local officials announced that at least 21 marathon runners in China’s Gansu province were killed after freezing rain, hail, and strong winds struck during a 62-mile cross-country race, which had a total of 172 participants. Robert Richards, an AccuWeather meteorologist, stated that a front moving through the region might have caused hail and strong winds.
AFP reported that extreme weather conditions impacted a high-altitude section of the cross-country race that was held in the Yellow River Stone Forest on May 22. Regarding the severe weather that affected the race, Zhang Xuchen, the Mayor of Baiyin City, said, “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.”
The remaining 151 marathoners were rescued by officials. While they are safe, some of them suffered from hypothermia. Eight runners were also treated for minor injuries but were stable. One of the survivors said her whole body was soaked, including her socks and shoes. She added that she could not stand up straight because of the wind gusts. “I was very worried I’d be blown over. The cold became more and more unbearable,” she said.
According to Reuters, the organizers of the marathon dispatched a huge rescue team with over 1,200 rescuers after they started receiving messages from the participants. The rescuers used thermal imaging drones, radar detectors, as well as demolition equipment during their mission. The race was finally called off at about 2 p.m. (local time) after the weather conditions became worse.
The public has expressed anger regarding the lack of planning. A commentator wrote, “Why didn’t the government read the weather forecast and do a risk assessment? This is totally a man made calamity. Even if the weather is unexpected, where were the contingency plans?”
Baiyin City officials have apologized for what happened and expressed their condolences to the families of those who passed away in the race.