Amaravati (AP): A private boat carrying around 60 tourists capsized in swollen Godavari river in Andhra Pradesh, leaving at least eight people dead and 26 others missing on Sunday, the state government said. Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy is scheduled to embark on an aerial survey of the area at 9.45am on Monday.
As many as 27 people survived the tragedy and were brought to safety, the state Diasaster Management Authority (SDMA) said in a release late tonight. The boat 'Royal Vasishta' was on its way to the picturesque Papikondalu tourist spot in the middle of the river when it met with the accident, apparently on colliding with a large rock formation, at Kachchuluru in East Godavari District, about 200 km from here.
Quoting initial reports, police earlier said 12 bodies had been retrieved, but the SDMA later put the toll at eight. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Andhra Pradesh Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy among others expressed grief over the tragedy.
A team of deep divers from the Indian Navy reached the accident spot at Kachhuluru and joined the National Disaster Response Force and State Disaster Response Force personnel in the search for the missing passengers. The river has been in spate for the past few days and over 5.13 lakh cusecs of floodwater was flowing on Sunday when the mishap occurred.
Most of the tourists were from Hyderabad and Warrangal in neighbouring Telangana and state chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao announced an ex-gratia of Rs five lakh each to the bereaved families from his state and deputed ministers to coordinate in the relief works and help the injured.
Though the number of deceased from Telangana was yet to be confirmed, at least 14 people from Warangal district and Hyderabad are missing in the incident, officials said in the state capital.
Though the boat has license, it was not yet clear whether it had the required permission to ferry tourists since all boat operations in the river have been prohibited because of the flood. The Prime Minister in a tweet said: "Extremely pained by the capsizing of a boat in Andhra Pradesh's East Godavari. My thoughts are with the bereaved families."
He said rescue operations are currently underway at the site of the tragedy. "The loss of lives due to capsizing of a boat in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh is very unfortunate. I am deeply pained," Shah tweeted.
Conveying his condolences to the berevaed families, Gandhi said on Twitter: "I pray that all those reported missing will soon be accounted for and that they are safe." Leader of Opposition N Chandrababu Naidu expressed grief over the tragedy.
Jagan Mohan Reddy, while expressing shock over the grave tragedy, announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 10 lakh each to the kin of the deceased. The SDMA release said the boat carrying "approximately 60 passengers" capsized in Godavari river around 1.45 pm.
Out of the 60 passengers, 27 have been rescued and 25 are still missing, it said quoting a report from the assistant project officer of Integrated Tribal Development Agency at Rampachodavaram near the accident spot.
A helicopter of the ONGC has been pressed into service for the rescue operation while a specialist deep divers team from Uttarakhand with side-scan sonar equipment would reach the accident spot on Monday, the SDMA said.
Of the 27 rescued, 16 were administered first-aid at the area hospital in Rampachodavaram and then shifted to the government general hospital in Rajamahendravaram for further treatment and trauma counselling, the authority said. Bodies of the deceased have been shifted to Rajamahendravaram for post-mortem.
There were similar accidents at the same spot some years ago in which several people were killed. Two drivers of the boat, S Nukaraju and Kamaraju, were among those killed on Sunday. A boat coming in the opposite direction saved the day for many people in Royal Vasishta, as they jumped into the river and got on to the other boat and saved themselves.
Villagers of Tutugunta in the vicinity also came to the rescue of the boat capsize victims and saved at least five tourists from Warangal. A survivor, who is a resident of Uppal area in Hyderabad, told TV channels that there were 80 people, including his three family members, in the boat. I have survived but there is no information about my wife, brother-in-law, his wife and son, he said.
Among the missing were four persons from a family in Visakhapatnam, according to police sources. Jagan Reddy directed the East Godavari district Collector Muralidhar Reddy to conduct a probe whether the boat had permission to ferry passengers. He also directed that all boat operations be suspended forthwith, a release from the CMO said.
The Chief Minister has taken the issue very seriously. He asked the officials to prepare a report with the help of experts on boat operations and frame clear guidelines, it added.
(With inputs from PTI)