Mumbai: At least 200 people, including women and children, drowned and over 100 went missing when a packed steamer carrying over 300 passengers sank in the Brahmaputra River in India after being caught in a severe storm midstream, media reported on Monday.
According to reports Assam state police chief J.N. Choudhury said that the boat was carrying about 350 passengers and broke into two pieces.
“About 25 people who were traveling on the top level were rescued or swam to safety,” he said.
Choudhury said the accident occurred on the Brahmaputra river near Fakiragram in west Dhubri district. The area is about 350 kilometers (215 miles) west of the state capital, Gauhati, and close to where the 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.
Strong winds and rain likely caused the accident, Choudhury said. Police and paramilitary soldiers were sent to help local villagers with rescue efforts, he said.
Mohan Lal, a senior officer with the Border Security Force, said 35 troops were at the accident site on boats and were using hand-held searchlights. He said a team of federal rescue workers was also on its way.
Lal said troops had located the upturned and broken pieces of the boat but were unable to lift them without a crane.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement expressing shock and grief at the loss of life.