October 1, 2009 6:12:31 pm
The death toll in the worst-ever boat mishap in Thekkady lake in Kerala rose to 41 with rescuers fishing out ten more bodies of tourists on Thursday. Forty naval divers aided by helicopter support resumed the search operations this morning as mist and rains hampered their efforts last night.
A concerned state government ordered a judicial probe by a sitting high court judge into the tragedy. Among the dead 12 are from Delhi,nine from Tamil Nadu,five from West Bengal,four from Andhra Pradesh and three from Karnataka.
The victims from Delhi include ten belonging to three families,who were on a pleasure trip to the state. Of them,nine were women,including a minor girl. Naval helicopters conducted three sorties from their base INS Garuda in Kochi since the morning in addition to the recce by choppers late last evening,officials said. Grieving relatives struggled to come to grips with the loss of their dear ones and awaited the bodies after postmortem at hospitals nearby. The double-decker boat had sunk in the lake in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Idukki district yesterday when tourists rushed to one side of the vessel to have a glimpse of a herd of elephants,causing it to tip.
Officials said in all 75 tickets had been issued for the cruise which started around 4 PM. The tragedy took place about 5 km from the boarding point. Officials said 31 bodies had been sent to Ernakulam in Kochi for embalming and three to Madurai in Tamil Nadu from where the victims hailed.
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None of the victims on board the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation’s boat ‘Jalakanyaka’ was a foreigner,Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and Revenue Minister K P Rajendran told reporters. Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan announced a judicial inquiry as also solatium of Rs five lakh each to the next of kin of the victims.
The probe would cover all aspects of the accident including safety measures,he said,as several survivors blamed lack of safety aspect on the boat for the mishap.
The boat’s steerman and an aide,who survived the accident,are absconding,police said. Dinesh Dinakaran from Madurai,who lost his wife and two children in the mishap,said adequate safety measures were not in place on the boat. It did not even have life jackets,a view shared by the other survivors also,he said. Union Minister of State for Home Mullapally Ramachandran said after visiting the injured that the Centre was seriously considering setting up a unit of the National Disaster Response Force in Kerala in the wake of the mishap.
He said it would be a paramilitary force which would speed up rescue operations. Presently,the force has only one unit in the southern region at Arakonam in Tamil Nadu.
Meanwhile,the Chief Minister told reporters at the Government general hospital at Kochi that arrangements have been made to transport the embalmed bodies of the victims would be flown to their respective states. The body of four-year-old girl Sai Manasi has been airlifted to Hyderabad from Nedumbassery airport here.
24 bodies will be taken to Delhi,Kolkata,Mumbai,Bangalore,Hyderabad and Chennai from Kochi. The bodies are being embalmed at the Government General hospital and Amrita hosptial.
The Chief Minister had got in touch with the Prime Minister’s office and the Defence Minister for getting permission for using the IAF plane,Union Minister of state for Agriculture K V Thomas said.
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