Rescuers pull 12 bodies, 10 still missing after Godavari boat tragedy

Rescue workers on Wednesday pulled 12 bodies from the Godavari river after a boat carrying more than 40 passengers, mostly tribals, capsized due to gusty winds in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district on Tuesday evening.

“In all, 44 people - including 27 men and 17 women - were travelling in the boat. Of them, 22 passengers swam to safety. While 12 bodies have been recovered so far, bodies of another 10 passengers, including three persons whose identity is not known, are yet to be recovered,” Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu said.

The bodies were brought to shore by 4pm on Wednesday after nearly 16 hours of rescue operation that was carried out by personnel from the Indian Navy, National Disaster Response Force, State Disaster Management Force and the irrigation department.

Navy helicopter from the Eastern Naval Command fitted with a sonar equipment located the boat in the morning at around 60 feet under water. NDRF personnel and navy divers managed to reach the spot and bring it ashore with the help of heavy cranes at around 3pm.

The chief minister, who supervised the rescue operations at the accident spot for over four hours, said the disaster was mostly man-made and that the greed of the boat operator was mainly responsible for the accident.

“Apart from overloading the boat with men, he also carried cement bags and two-wheelers in the boat. Added to these issues, there were heavy gales in the area, as a result of which the boat could not withstand the pressure and sunk in the river,” he said.

Naidu said the district authorities had sent alerts about heavy gales in Devipatnam area at least half an hour in advance. “Yet, the boat driver ignored the alerts and operated the boat in the river,” he said.

Naidu announced an ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh to each of the families of the deceased as well as an immediate financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh for performing the last rites of the victims and other needs.

“Besides, the government would provide employment opportunities to the eligible in the victims’ families, free educational facilities for school-going children of their families and adequate financial assistance under rehabilitation and resettlement package of the Polavaram major irrigation project under construction,” he said.

The accident occurred around 5.30pm on Tuesday when the boat carrying a marriage party along with others from Kondamodalu to Rajahmundry sank after being hit by heavy gales near Mantoor village of Devipatnam block. The boat was supposed to reach its destination within an hour.

Some of the passengers were going to Indukuru to get corrections made in the official documents for obtaining various benefits from the government like pensions, ration and wages under NREGP.

“There was also a drizzle at that time and the boat driver asked us to close the windows, stating that the cement bags in the cabin would get drenched. He did not heed to our appeal not to go ahead because of heavy winds,” a survivor told the local media.

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