- - Tuesday, May 1, 2012

GUWAHATI, India — As many as 200 people were feared dead after an overcrowded double-decker ferry capsized and split in two during a fierce storm on a northeastern river late Monday, officials said.

On Tuesday, rescuers had recovered 103 bodies from the Brahmaputra River in the northeastern state of Assam and searched for about 100 people who were still missing. Rescuers said they feared many of the missing may have been swept by the current to neighboring Bangladesh.

“We cannot give any figure of death, but the boat was carrying around 250 people,” said Pradip Saloi, police superintendent of the Dhubri district, where the accident occurred.

“We have account of 30 survivors so far, but there was no recovery of any new [survivors] on Tuesday,” Mr. Saloi said.

The accident occurred after the ferry was caught in bad weather around 5 p.m. Monday. About same time, another boat also capsized on the Brahmaputra River, and 12 people are missing in that incident.

Army personnel, paramilitary forces, police officers and National Disaster Relief Force workers, including divers, were deployed in the search-and-rescue operation.

“The boat was full of people. It could be even 300. The boat started rocking, and some of us just jumped in the water in panic,” a male survivor told a local TV news channel.

A senior government official from Assam said he had overseen the recovery of 17 bodies since Monday night, while Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told reporters that more than 40 bodies were recovered and many more were likely to be removed from the river.

“We heard that the boat was carrying between 250 and 280 people, and most them are missing,” said Kumud Chandra Kalita, deputy commissioner of Dhubri district.

Officials said many of the bodies could have drifted to Bangladesh, noting that the river border is 25 miles from the scene of the accident and the river has strong currents.

The boat “was caught in a severe storm and capsized, causing death of a large number of people. We apprehend more deaths, though rescue work is on in full swing,” Mr. Gogoi told reporters.

“We will probe the tragedy, but now the focus is on rescue operation,” he said.

The overloaded double-decker ferry boat split into two under the impact of the severe storm, officials said.

Rescue workers initially were hindered by the stormy winds and heavy downpour.

Police said they were trying to retrieve the bodies taken away by villagers.

The Brahmaputra, which originates in southwestern Tibet as the Yarlung Tsangpo River, passes through India’s Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states and flows toward Bangladesh in the south. The river is about 1,800 miles long and provides water for irrigation and transportation.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday announced government aid of $3,800 for each family of relatives who died in the accident.

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