150 missing as boat capsizes in Assam

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  • Published 1.05.12

Dhubri/Guwahati, April 30: Over 150 persons were reported missing after a launch capsized on the Brahmaputra near Bura-Buri Than in Assam’s Goalpara district this evening.

The launch, which left Dhubri ghat at 2.30pm for Medartary ghat of Fakirganj, was packed with passengers and laden with goods, a police source said.

When it was about to reach Medartary ghat, the boat got caught in a severe storm which blew it away to some distance where it hit a boulder spur and broke into pieces.

The site of the incident is around 200km from Guwahati.

Dhubri superintendent of police Pradip Chandra Saloi said he could not confirm the number of causalities but a police team was at the site for search and rescue operations.

A local resident said there were nearly 300 passengers on the boat.

Home department sources said in Guwahati that 41 bodies have been recovered so far.

Around 40 to 45 persons swam to safety or were rescued.

The deputy commissioner and SP of Dhubri were at the site. “The SDPO is carrying out rescue operations with other police personnel,” a source said. The home department has also issued instructions to neighbouring districts for mobilising personnel.

Several other boats and launches were caught in the storm that struck suddenly. A boat to Lakhipur reached safely with passengers and goods.

Local residents said at least one or two boats capsize in sudden storms every year.

The CMO said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called up chief minister Tarun Gogoi, enquiring about the mishap and condoling the deaths.

Newly elected AGP president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who is in Delhi, also offered his condolences to the affected families and sought proper rescue operations.

Gogoi has directed the chief secretary and the principal secretary, disaster department, to take prompt rescue measures and provide relief to the affected.

He also instructed the inland water transport department to conduct an inquiry into the mishap.

The Prime Minister has given instructions to provide all possible assistance to the government of Assam in relief operations and also for assistance from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund to the families of the deceased.

Sources in the disaster management department told The Telegraph that a National Disaster Response Force team left Guwahati soon after receiving the information.

Personnel from the army and the BSF’s river wing are also engaged in rescue operations. Around 25 divers are on the job under the supervision of BSF DIG Mohan Lal.

Questions, however, were raised about the Indian meteorological department’s failure to put in place an advanced storm warning system in Assam because such weather is a routine phenomenon between March and the first week of May.

Storms have already been reported from Tinsukia, Dhubri and Karimganj districts so far.

Questions were also raised about the safety measures adopted by the inland water transport department. A source said they need to have a met cell of their own.

“The coastal areas have this cyclone warning system but since we have no sea, we do not have any such mechanism. It will be wise on the part of the Indian meteorological department to install something for Assam as well. This phenomenon has to be studied to see if these winds have destructive tendencies so that people can be warned. This tragedy has only underlined the fact that an early warning system is the need of the hour,” the source said.

Jishnu Baruah, home commissioner, told The Telegraph tonight that the chief minister had directed two cabinet ministers — Nazrul Islam and Chandan Brahma — to visit the site to take stock of the situation.

“Preliminary reports suggest that over 150 are missing, around 100 swam to safety and 35 were rescued by the BSF. The actual picture will become clear only tomorrow,” Baruah said.

The Border Guards Bangladesh has also taken steps to help the BSF in rescue operations.

AIUDF leader Badaruddin Ajmal tonight said he would visit the spot tomorrow and organise the last rites of the victims.