At least 20 people have died in north-western China as extreme weather struck a cross-country mountain race.
On Saturday hail, freezing rain and high winds hit participants in the 100km race in the Yellow River Stone Forest, a tourist site in Gansu province, state-run media reported.
“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 1:00pm 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.
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”.
The bodies were found by search-and-rescue teams on Sunday.
“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.
Its rock formations are believed to be four billion years old.