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Rescuers search for bodies after Indian ferry disaster

From Harmeet Singh, CNN
updated 4:20 AM EDT, Wed May 2, 2012
The ferry sank Monday evening in the Brahmaputra River after a storm, according to Indian officials.
The ferry sank Monday evening in the Brahmaputra River after a storm, according to Indian officials.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ferry sank Monday evening as it sailed along the Brahmaputra River in Assam state
  • Officials said the vessel broke apart as it tried to dock during a storm
  • Only 90 people escaped, while 19 bodies have been recovered
  • Authorities fear many bodies have been swept downstream into Bangladesh

(CNN) -- Authorities continued their search for bodies Wednesday, two days after one of India's worst ferry accidents claimed at least 100 lives.

The ferry sank Monday evening as it sailed along the Brahmaputra River in the remote northeastern state of Assam. Officials said the vessel -- which was overcrowded and carrying as many as 300 people -- apparently broke apart when it was about to dock after a storm.

Assam home commissioner Jishnu Barua told CNN 90 people were rescued, while 19 bodies have been recovered so far. Officials said the number of recovered bodies was downgraded from 40 due to inaccurate statements from witnesses.

Barua said divers have been used to retrieve bodies from the swollen river but have had limited success. He admitted the chances of finding more survivors in the fast-flowing river almost 40 hours after the accident were slim.

Indian officials have also requested help from Bangladesh as they suspect many corpses have been swept downstream into the neighboring country, Barua said.

Meanwhile, local villagers described the horror that awaited them on Monday night as they arrived on the scene in torrential rain to help.

"We searched the bank for survivors. We found some jumping onto the land, but about an hour later, bodies were floating and getting pushed to the bank," Motlef Ali told the Times of India.

A survivor from the boat described how many of his fellow passengers were prevented from escaping.

"The storm lasted almost an hour. It was close to the bank and many of us managed to jump on to the ground. But then the boat capsized and many were trapped inside," Joynal Abedin told the Times of India.

An inquiry into the incident has now been ordered, officials said.

Boat accidents are nothing new in remote areas of India, where ferries are often overcrowded and in poor condition due to lax safety standards.

In 2010, a boat packed with Muslim pilgrims capsized in West Bengal in eastern India, killing at least 79.

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