They rushed from one hospital to another, and posted desperate messages online, but many relatives still did not know yesterday whether their loved ones were alive or dead.
Even police were having difficulty compiling a list of the missing because there was no passenger manifest for the stricken boat.
Koo Man-pong and his family had flipped through photos of victims at the Kwai Chung mortuary, and posted a message on Facebook, but they still could not find his younger brother, Thomas Koo Man-cheung.
"I saw his body on TV. At that time he looked unconscious," Koo said. "We've checked all the hospitals, but he was not admitted. So he is probably in the mortuary. The information was quite chaotic."
It was confirmed yesterday that 24-year-old Koo, an associate engineer at Hongkong Electric, had died. His new girlfriend, university student Chan Wing-yee, had been confirmed dead earlier.
Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung said police had no list of passengers' names.
"We can only ask survivors, one by one, if they know of anyone who is still missing," he said.
"This job is time-consuming because some survivors were discharged and others were never admitted to hospital."
It is understood that Hongkong Electric had no passenger list. There was also confusion over the exact number of passengers involved.
The firm said the boat was carrying 124 people, but the 38 confirmed dead and 93 injured who were treated at hospitals brought the total to at least 131.
Among the 101 victims admitted to five public hospitals, eight were confirmed dead. At 4pm yesterday, two were in critical condition and two in serious condition. Twenty-three were stable and 66 had been discharged.
Another man, who gave only his family name Li, was at the mortuary looking for his sister.
"I went to the piers and three hospitals to look for her, but there was nothing," Li said. "So I came to the mortuary to see what information that might have."
A social worker with grown children, and his sister was on the boat with three friends who worked for Hongkong Electric.
Ryan Tsui, whose 42-year-old brother died while his family survived, said at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital that he hoped the government could send more staff to help with inquiries at hospitals where victims had been admitted.
"I think the government could handle the matter in a more serious manner," he said.
Tsui said his 10-year-old niece was in critical condition in Eastern Hospital with internal bleeding and had been placed on a ventilator.
He said the conditions of his sister-in-law and six-year-old nephew - who, unlike the rest of his family, had been sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital - had stabilised.