Death toll in Hirakud boat tragedy rises to 28

The death toll in the Hirakud Dam boat tragedy in Sambalpur district rose to 28 on Monday with the recovery of 17 more bodies, even as rescue operations continued for the second day to trace another five persons.

“Personnel of the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and fire brigade fished out 11 bodies by the Sunday evening, while 17 more were recovered on Monday,” said Odisha special relief commissioner PK Mohapatra.

Besides expert scuba divers, personnel of ODRAF, fire brigade, police and local divers were also engaged in rescue and search operations in the vast reservoir as the place of accident was very deep.

The state government also pressed a helicopter in the search operation.

The state government has ordered an administrative inquiry by Sambalpur revenue divisional commissioner into the incident to probe if the boat had safety measures and license to operate.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who is in New Delhi, has asked revenue and disaster minister SDN Patro and finance minister Prasanna Acharya to rush to Sambalpur to oversee the rescue operations.

“Our first priority is to rescue the people and the entire government machinery has been working at that,” Patro said.

The state government has announced an ex-gratia compensation of Rs. 1.5 lakh for the family members of the victims and free treatment for the survivors.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is on a two-day visit to the state, has put his scheduled meeting with party workers on hold and visited the spot to meet grieving families.

The issue was raised in the state assembly with leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh seeking a statement from the government.

The boat had capsized on Sunday with at least 100 people from the Lion’s Club of Sambalpur, Hirakud and Bargarh, who were returning from the other side of the Hirakud reservoir after a picnic.

The boat was flooded with water after developing a snag in its motor pump in the reservoir, about 340 km west of Bhubaneswar. Eyewitnesses said the passengers tried to drain the water from the boat but failed.

Some passengers jumped out of the boat and stay afloat till local fishermen rushed to save them. Women and children were the major casualty of the tragedy.

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