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13 drown in Hirakud dam

- Overloaded boat triggers tragedy

Sambalpur, Feb. 9: At least 13 picnickers were killed and 17 others went missing as an overloaded motorboat carrying nearly 100 passengers capsized in the Hirakud reservoir today.

Most of the passengers were the members of the local Lions Club. The toll was likely to rise, said official sources. The incident took place when they were returning from a picnic this evening.

The deceased have been identified as Anita Singh, 40, Seema Agarwal, 38, Usha Agarwal, 35, Santosh Kumari, 5, Suchismita Jena, 30, Tania Sharma, 15, Harish Agarwal, 8, Parvesh Sharma, 35, Purva Sharma, 18, Ansu Agarwal, 16, Raj Kumar Agarwal, 32, Minu Tiwari, 35, and Rajesh Agarwal, 42.

The toll is likely to rise as a number of women and children are feared trapped under the boat. Most of the victims are from established business families of the Sambalpur town.

“They have the rice-mills and wholesale business of different products. They had gone on a picnic,” said a kin of the deceased.

Special relief commissioner P.K. Mohapatra said: “The rescue operation is going on in full swing. The Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force has been pressed into action. We are using flashlights to carry on the operation so that more people could be rescued. However, the casualties could be more. The accident took place because of the overloading of passengers, which included some local residents.”

The local people have also been engaged in the rescue operation.

Sources said nearly 200 people from the local Lions Club had gone on a picnic to Marang Dunguri, a forest under Tilia panchayat in Jharsuguda district, across the Hirakud reservoir in two boats.

While returning, the first batch of nearly 60 picnickers landed safely on the other side of the reservoir. However, on the second trip, the motorboat got overloaded with picnickers despite the pilot’s warning that this could lead to a mishap. Around 100 persons boarded the ill-fated vessel that sunk in the middle of the reservoir.

“It was a forty-minute ride on the motorboat. We had almost travelled half the distance when the incident took place,” said Mahesh, 40, who was rescued by the team.

Eyewitnesses said that there was panic among the passengers when water began entering the boat through a hole at its bottom. Some tried to jump out to save themselves. But this upset the balance of the vessel and it capsized. The engine of the boat also developed a snag moments before it capsized.

Local BJP leader Suresh Pujari, who was at the VSS Medical College, Burla, where the bodies were taken for post mortem, said: “It is a major tragedy. The number of casualties is likely to go up.”

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who is in Delhi on a four-day visit, expressed grief and directed the administration to expedite the rescue operation.

The state government has announced that it would bear all expenses of the treatment of the injured.

The rescued persons have been admitted to the VSS Medical College, Burla and district headquarters hospital in Sambalpur.