GAUHATI, India – Army divers and rescue workers pulled 103 bodies out of a river after a packed ferry boat capsized in heavy winds and rain in remote northeast India, an official said Tuesday.
At least 100 people were still missing after the boat carrying about 350 passengers broke into two pieces late Monday, said Pritam Saikia, the district magistrate of Goalpara district.
Deep sea divers and disaster rescue soldiers worked through the night to pull bodies from the Brahmaputra River in Assam state.
Heavy winds and rain after the accident hampered rescue operations, said Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Assam's top elected official.
"I will be ordering an inquiry into the cause of the accident, but right now our priority is to account for every person who was on the ferry," Gogoi said.
Around 150 passengers swam to safety or were rescued by villagers living nearby, said Saikia, who was supervising the rescue operations. He said 103 bodies had been pulled from the river.
Divers and rescue workers with rubber rafts scoured the river early Tuesday in the search for survivors amid the floating debris, which was all that remained of the ferry.
A passenger, Hasnat Ali, told local television that about 200 people were packed inside the boat along with cargo, and that he and around 150 others were riding on the roof when a storm hit as the ferry was heading to the shore to dock. The boat was tossed about and many of those on the roof were thrown off and managed to swim to shore before the ferry was dashed to pieces, he said.
Ali said he managed to cling to a log and was later rescued by local villagers.
Assam state police chief J.N. Choudhury said the passengers traveling on the top level were saved.
Choudhury said the accident occurred near Fakiragram village in west Dhubri district, about 215 miles west of the state capital, Gauhati, and close to where the Brahmaputra River enters Bangladesh. He said officials in that country had been contacted for help.
The area is dotted with riverside settlements and small islands, and boats are the most common mode of transport. Most ferries are overcrowded, with little regard for safety regulations.
Mohan Lal, a senior officer with the Border Security Force, said 35 BSF troops were at the accident site on boats and used hand-held searchlights to search for passengers after daylight faded.
Lal said troops had located the upturned and broken pieces of the boat but were unable to lift them without a crane.
A team of federal rescue workers was helping to find bodies that may have been swept downstream.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement expressing shock and grief at the loss of life.