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Assam puts ferry tragedy toll at 63

Assam,Crime/Disaster/Accident, Wed, 02 May 2012 IANS

Guwahati, May 2 (IANS) Assam authorities Wednesday put the death toll in the ferry tragedy at 63 but furious locals insisted that not less than 200 perished in the Brahmaputra.


Aloke Singh, commander of the 1st battalion of the National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF), meanwhile said that fishermen had spotted some bodies in Bangladesh's rivulets.


"We are cooperating with the forces along the Indo-Bangla border. We are told some bodies have been spotted there. We are expecting they would hand over them to us soon," he said.


A crowded ferry carrying -- by some accounts -- around 300 people capsized at Madattari in lower Assam's Dhubri district Monday evening when it was hit by a storm. The first reports put the death toll at 270.


The NDRF and Border Security Force (BSF) personnel have been continuing to search for the missing, amid waning hopes that there could be any more survivors.


Amid conflicting claims over the number of dead, the Dhubri district administration said the Monday ferry tragedy killed 63 and that the search operations would continue Thursday as well.


Locals said the causality would not be less than 200 and that most bodies had been washed away downstream due to strong under-currents.


The administration's count of 63 dead includes the 21 bodies that were sent for post-mortem Tuesday and the 42 complaints of missing people which were received by the authorities till Wednesday.


"So far we have recovered 21 bodies and we have 42 missing reports. So the death toll comes to 63 till Wednesday," Dhubri Deputy Commissioner Kumud Kalita told IANS.


"There may have been over 300 people in the boat but we cannot say that until we recover the bodies. Our inquiry is still on," he said.


On Tuesday, district officials had admitted that some of the bodies were taken away by relatives for burial Monday night.


Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi Wednesday cut short his Amethi visit to reach the disaster site to express solidarity with the families of the victims.


Gandhi was accompanied by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and state Congress president Bhubneswar Kalita.


Locals refused to accept the official death toll.


Abdul Aziz, a survivor, alleged that the administration was trying to cover up the number of dead as it was under pressure from the government.


"There were over 300 people in the boat," he said. "Only a few who knew how to swim could reach the banks. Most passengers were women and children. We saw from the banks that only a few survived."


Aloke Singh said the undercurrent in the Brahmaputra was very strong and rescuers were struggling hard to carry out the search operation.


"I guess most bodies have already been washed away downstream. There is no hope of anyone remaining alive. We are now looking for bodies.


"It takes about four hours to go from one sandbar to another searching for bodies. So it will take some more days," he said.


The rescue team finds it difficult to continue its work beyond 5.30 p.m. due to darkness.


The NDRF is using 20 deep water divers and 20 boats for the search operation. The BSF and a local army unit are assisting the search.


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