India ferry capsizes; 103 dead, 100 missing

India ferry capsizes; 103 dead, 100 missing

DHUBRI, India - Agence France-Presse
India ferry capsizes; 103 dead, 100 missing

Rescuers search for victims of a ferry accident on the Meghna River in Munshiganj district, about 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of Dhaka, India, Tuesday, March 13, 2012. AP Photo

Army divers and rescue workers pulled 103 bodies out of a river after a packed ferry boat capsized in heavy winds and rain in remote northeast India, an official said today.

At least 100 people were still missing Tuesday after the boat carrying about 350 passengers broke into two pieces late Monday, said Pritam Saikia, the district magistrate of Goalpara district.

Deep sea divers and disaster rescue soldiers worked through the night to pull bodies from the Brahmaputra River in Assam state.

Heavy winds and rain hampered rescue operations, said Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Assam's top elected official.

"I will be ordering an inquiry into the cause of the accident, but right now our priority is to account for every person who was on the ferry," Gogoi said.

Around 150 passengers swam to safety or were rescued by villagers, said Saikia, who was supervising the rescue operations.

Divers and rescue workers with rubber rafts scoured the river early Tuesday in the search for survivors amid the floating debris, which was all that remained of the ferry.

Passenger Hasnat Ali told local television the storm tossed about the boat, and he and others who were riding on the roof were thrown off or managed to swim ashore before the ferry was dashed to pieces. But about 200 people were packed inside the boat along with cargo.

Another passenger told New Delhi Television channel there was no lifeguard or life boats on the ferry.
The accident occurred near Fakiragram village in west Dhubri district, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) west of the state capital, Gauhati, and close to where the Brahmaputra River enters Bangladesh.
The area is dotted with riverside settlements and small islands, and boats are the most common mode of transport. Most ferries are overcrowded, with little regard for safety regulations.

Mohan Lal, a senior officer with the Border Security Force, said 35 BSF troops were at the accident site on boats and used hand-held searchlights to search for passengers after daylight faded.

Lal said troops had located the upturned and broken pieces of the boat but were unable to lift them without a crane.