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30 drown as boat capsizes in Kerala


Thekkady (Kerala): At least 30 tourists drowned when a boat capsized in a lake in the Periyar wildlife sanctuary of Kerala Wednesday evening, police said. With rescue work continuing, the toll was feared to go up.

Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan expressed deep anguish and ordered an inquiry into the accident.

The boat of the state-run Kerala Tourism Development Corporation was carrying at least 76 tourists, mostly from Karnataka and some from abroad. It capsized at around 5.15 p.m. in the artificial lake near Thekkady, about 300 km from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony said he had asked Vice Admiral K.N. Sushil, flag officer commanding-in-chief of the Southern Naval Command, to help in the rescue operations.

State Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said arrangements were being made for lighting at the accident site, even as rescue operations were becoming difficult following nightfall.

Subhash, a forest official who took part in the rescue operations, said the double-decker boat was upside down when he reached the site.

“I broke open the glass and rescued four people. Our team was able to rescue close to 20 people,” he said.

Joy, a witness, said: “There were a few other boats which were ahead of the ill-fated boat and seeing the tragedy, these boats immediately came to the spot. People onboard these tried their best to rescue more and more people. Several of those rescued were seen lying down on the bank of the lake waiting for the speed boats to arrive to take them to hospital.”

The scene at the Periyar hospital, where 20 bodies were brought in, was heart-rending.

A middle-aged women was wailing and beating her chest after she learnt that two of her children were no more. A grieving man was hugging his wife’s body, not knowing what has happened.

An unspecified number of rescued people were being brought to various hospitals in Idukki district.

Koshy John, a tourist guide who knows the lake well, said water is more than 50 metres deep at the accident site.

“The longer it takes for the victims to be pulled out, the dimmer are the chances of their survival. And there is no light in that area… bringing lights and generators will also take time,” said John.

The boat, ‘Jala Kanyaka’, was new and pressed into service in the popular wildlife spot and tourist destination only a month ago, officials said.