Guwahati: Latest reports suggest that the death toll in the Assam boat tragedy could be much less than the original estimate. Last night, over 100 people were feared dead after an over-packed steamer, reportedly carrying 350 passengers, sank in the Brahmaputra river in Assam after being caught in a severe storm. According to reports, the accident happened close to the embankment, and many have walked or swum to safety in the shallow waters.
Nearly 24 hours after the tragedy just 17 bodies have been found with authorities saying that most of the bodies may have got swept away, making it even more difficult to estimate how many may have actually been on board.
Reports say that over 350 people were packed onto the steamer, which should ideally accommodate only a little over 200 passengers.
Around 35 are reported missing and 10 people were injured in the accident. Search operations are still on for more the missing, according to the police.
Muddy waters, bad weather and strong currents have hampered the search operations for survivors today. The Army has rushed in two infantry columns, two engineer task forces with six boats, 12 divers and medical teams to assist in the rescue operations. Besides the Army, BSF's water wing, National Disaster Force and police with mechanised boats are engaged in a massive rescue operation in the river.
As with any national tragedy, families of victims also cite government apathy towards them. "We visited the local district collector's office but it was locked. Some officers there told us to come back later and one officer told me to go away," said a victim's family member. He also alleged that boats were always over packed and with no life jackets, life guards or safety gear a tragedy like this was waiting to happen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced compensation of Rs. 2lakh each for the next of kin of those killed in boat tragedy.
The steamer had left Dhubri ferry ghat for Mederteri in south bank of the district in the evening and capsized because of the impact of the storm.