GAUHATI, India (AP) — An overcrowded ferry boat capsized in heavy winds and rain in remote northeastern India late Monday, killing at least 41 people and leaving at least 150 others missing, police said.
Divers and rescue workers with rubber rafts scoured the Brahmaputra River early Tuesday in the search for survivors amid the floating debris, which was all that remained of the ferry. The boat was packed with around 350 people.
A passenger, Hasnat Ali, told local television that about 200 people were packed inside the boat along with cargo, and that he and around 150 others were riding on the roof when a storm hit as the ferry was heading to the shore to dock. The boat was tossed about and many of those on the roof were thrown off and managed to swim to shore before the ferry was dashed to pieces, he said.
He managed to cling to a log and was later rescued by local villagers, he said.
Assam state police chief J.N. Choudhury said the people traveling on the top level were saved.
But 41 bodies have been found and rescuers are searching for at least 150 people who are missing, police said.
Choudhury said the accident occurred near Fakiragram in west Dhubri district, 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.