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Rahul changes plan, flies to Sambalpur

- Hirakud boat mishap toll reaches 28

Sambalpur/ Bhubaneswar, Feb. 10: The death toll in the Hirakud boat tragedy mounted to 28 today with the recovery of 15 more bodies.

Though rescue operation continued till evening, three persons — Sampad Saraf, 44, Ishan Neotia, 3, and Shruti Agrawal, 13 — are still missing.

All India Congress Committee vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who was on a two-day visit to the state rescheduled his programme and flew to the spot to console the bereaved families. Most of the deceased belong to Sambalpur’s business community.

The tragedy claimed the lives of four daughters of well-known businessman Rajendra Sharma, who runs a crusher unit and other businesses. “They had gone with my elder brother Rajendra Sharma when the mishap took place. While my brother was rescued, they drowned,” said Bablu Sharma, 44, the uncle of the deceased girls — Purba Sharma, 21, Tania Sharma, 19, Jindia Sharma, 20, and Shristi Sharma, 8.

A pall of gloom descended over the Sambalpur town. Shops downed shutters and business establishments closed as a mark of respect to the departed souls.

Former chairman of the Sambalpur Municipality Ananda Jena lost his daughter-in-law Suchi Sunita Jena and his grand-daughter Ahana Jena, 6. Alok Lath, 55, a well-known businessman of the city, also died in the tragedy. Two other businessmen Sanjay Agarwal, 40, and Rajesh Agarwal, 41, who also died, owned stone crusher units. Gurudeep Singh Saluja, the owner of popular Hotel Inder, was also among those killed in the tragedy.

Dinesh Tiwari, 45, the owner of a printing press, drowned along with his wife Minu Tiwari and daughter Shilpa Tiwari. Another businessman Kehra Singh Chandel, 45, a contractor, his wife Santosh Kumari and daughter-in-law Anindita Chandel were also killed.

Other deceased are Harish Agarwal, 10, Ansu Neotia, 35, Srusti Agarwal, 5, Amarendra Rout (a Hindalco employee), Seema Agarwal, 38, Anita Singh, 40, Usha Agrawal, 35, Pooja Bhabani, 22, Gopal Jain, 7, Prachi Aagrwal, 7, Ramesh Pansari, 45, (owner of a cold storage) and Raj Kumar Agarwal, 15. Boatmen Akshya Rana and Anjan are missing.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik ordered an RDC (revenue divisional commissioner) inquiry into the incident and announced an ex gratia assistance of Rs 1.50 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased.

However, the BJP demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident. “The RDC inquiry will not serve the purpose. It will not reveal whether life jackets had been given to the picnickers and whether the boat’s licence had been renewed,” said state BJP unit president K.V. Singh Deo.

A team of 114 picnickers and around 30 persons from nearby villages had boarded the boat. Some of them were also carrying motorbikes, which made the boat lose its balance in the middle of the reservoir. Many occupants jumped out to grab another boat, which had rushed to their rescue. However, it was too late and the panic further aggravated the situation. The boat had taken in a lot of water and capsized.


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