A day after at least 100 people were feared killed in a boat capsize in western Assam’s Dhubri district, local authorities and rescue teams struggled to ascertain the death toll amid fears that bodies may have been washed downstream to Bangladesh.
While National Disaster Relief Force officials claimed 103 bodies had been recovered, the state disaster management authority put the figure at 17. Survivors, however, found it hard to believe the toll could be less than 200.
The double-decker MV Paanch Bhai was caught in a cyclonic storm in Brahmaputra river around 5.30pm on Monday after it set sail from Dhubri town, 287 km west of Guwahati, to Medartari (a three-hour trip).
Though the government’s report on the disaster is awaited, survivor Chand Mian on Tuesday said the boat broke into three after hitting a concrete structure put up to check erosion, barely 25 feet from the Medartari ferry point.
Locals and survivors said the boat was ferrying 450-500 passengers as against a capacity of 200-250. The local motorised boat owners’ association, however, said the vessel had 220 passengers.
CM Tarun Gogoi suggested bodies might have been swept away to Bangladesh, 40km west of where the boat sank. “We are in touch with Dhaka.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced Rs 2 lakh assistance for the next of kin of each of the deceased. Assam will give Rs 1.5 lakh compensation to the victims’ kin.