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More bodies found at Haiti disaster site

September 12, 1997
Web posted at: 9:13 p.m. EDT (0113 GMT)

MONTROUIS, Haiti (CNN) -- At least seven bodies were recovered Friday as U.S. Navy divers searched for victims of a ferry boat disaster off the coast of Haiti.

Estimates are that more than 200 people may have died when the 60-foot-long ferry, named the Pride of Gonave, sank Monday as it neared the port of Montrouis on the country's central coast.

On Friday, Haitian President Rene Preval told a crowd of mourners that they would not be able to claim their relatives' bodies because they can no longer be identified. He said the bodies would be buried in a mass grave.

He also informed the families that the search effort would have to be put on hold until Monday so that search crews could stabilize the sunken ship in order to search it.

"What I am going to tell you is going to hurt," Preval said before making his announcement, which brought cries of despair from the waiting crowd. Families have been clamoring for rescue officials to bring up the bodies, many of which are believed trapped inside the boat.

"If you are our president, do something. How can you leave our people's bodies to rot?" mourners yelled at Preval.

The Haitian government asked the United States to send Navy divers to the scene to assist in the recovery, replacing United Nations peacekeepers who did not have the requisite equipment or expertise.

U.S. Navy Lt. Stewart Upton said divers had recovered the bodies as they carried out two assessment dives in 120-foot-deep (33-meter-deep) waters. A barge was to arrive Saturday to help stabilize the ferry, which is wedged bow down, stern up on edge of precipice, with the rudder stuck in the mud.

Navy officials said the divers may have to cut a hole in the fiberglass hull in order to remove the bodies of those trapped below deck.

The International Red Cross said that 269 tickets were sold for the ferry crossing. That did not include the number of children aboard who travel free without tickets. Divers took a videotape of inside the hull, showing what Preval said were "a lot of bodies."

In addition to those recovered Friday, at least 57 other bodies have been recovered. At least 50 people survived.

The ferry, at the end of a one-hour journey from Gonave Island, capsized Monday when the captain swung the bow around to allow passengers to leave from the stern. The passengers rushed to one side, and the boat capsized.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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