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Odisha boat tragedy toll reaches 28, probe ordered
Tuesday February 11, 2014 0:44 AM, IANS

The toll in Sunday's boat tragedy in Odisha rose to 28 Monday, with rescuers retrieving more bodies, officials said. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ordered an inquiry into the tragedy and announced an ex-gratia grant of Rs.1.5 lakh to the kin of the dead.

"Seventeen bodies were retrieved today (Monday). It is estimated that at least three people are still missing," state Special Relief Commissioner P.K. Mohapatra told IANS.

The dead include 17 women, of whom three are below the age of 10, and 11 men - of whom one is below seven years.

The boat which went down in the Hirakud Dam reservoir, about 350 km from Bhubaneswar, around 4.30 p.m. Sunday, was carrying more than 100 people against a capacity of 70. Most of the passengers were picnickers.

The rescue operation by firefighters, Disaster Rapid Action Force units and scuba divers in the reservoir was halted for the day Monday evening and will resume Tuesday, the official said.

The accident occurred when the people from Sambalpur and nearby areas were returning after a picnic on the other side of the reservoir.

Witnesses said the mechanised boat capsized in the middle of the reservoir after water entered into it following a snag. The passengers tried hard to drain out the water from the boat, but in vain.

Many of the picnickers jumped off the boat in panic. A survivor said the boat did not have basic safety measures.

"I desperately tried to rescue my wife and seven-year-old daughter but I could not," said Abinash Jena.

Ordering an inquiry into the tragedy, Patnaik said the state government will also bear the cost of treatment of the survivors.

Finance Minister Prasanna Acharya and Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Surya Narayan Patro visited the region and reviewed the situation.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who was in the state on a two-day tour since Sunday, also visited the tragedy site, and met the survivors.

Expressing grief at the loss of lives, he also requested the authorities to provide all possible assistance to the affected people.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Niranjan Patnaik asked the government how and why were boats without adequate safety jackets, trained crew and communication equipment being allowed to carry passengers.

The Bharatiya Janata Party in a statement rejected the probe ordered by the government and demanded a judicial inquiry.

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