At least 100 people were feared killed when a boat carrying around 300 people capsized in Brahmaputra river after it got caught in a severe cyclonic storm. The mishap took place in west Assam’s Dhubri district around 5pm on Monday.
While unconfirmed reports put the body count at 68 till 9:30pm, officials said only 38 bodies had been recovered. Around 100 people swam to safety, the police said.
“The ferry was sailing southeast from Dhubri town (around 287km west of Guwahati) to Hatsinghimari. Motorized ferries and country boats tend to be overloaded in these parts,” district police chief Pradip Saloi said from Dhubri.
The boat was carrying farmers, fishermen and other local people. Witnesses said they saw victims being swept away by the river’s strong currents.
“The storm sliced through the overloaded boat. We hardly had time to react,” said Qasem Ali, a survivor.
Rescue teams comprising the police, Border Security Force and local volunteers were looking for survivors and bodies. But darkness and bad weather hampered rescue efforts.
In New Delhi, President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed shock and grief over the loss of lives in the tragedy.
Singh spoke to chief minister Tarun Gogoi and promised to rush disaster response units from New Delhi. He said he had also given instructions “for assistance from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund to the families of the deceased”.
Meanwhile, a government spokesperson said an inquiry has been ordered into the mishap.
“The intention is to fix responsibility and ensure that the number of passengers on ferries is regulated,” he added.