India Ferry Capsizes; 103 Dead, 100 Missing

By ANUPAM NATH | May 2, 2012

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

At least 100 people were still missing Tuesday after the ferry carrying about 350 people 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. Rescue operations were centered around the tiny village of Buraburi near the India-Bangladesh border.

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 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 ferry, and he and others who were riding on the roof were thrown off or managed to swim ashore before the vessel was dashed to pieces. But about 200 people were packed inside the ferry 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 islands, and boats are the most common mode of transport. Most ferries are overcrowded, with little regard for safety regulations.

Soldiers and members of India’s disaster response team pulled the remains of the ferry from the river using ropes tied to two tractors.

Hundreds of anxious people, many weeping, waited for hours near Buraburi, looking for their loved ones.

Indian authorities have sought the help of their Bangladeshi counterparts to locate bodies that may have been swept away by the river’s fast current.

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