35 dead in India boat accident

A packed ferry boat has capsized in heavy winds and rain in remote north-eastern India, leaving at least 35 people dead and 165 others feared missing, police said.

Assam state police chief JN Choudhury said the boat was carrying about 350 passengers and broke into two pieces.

About 150 people who were travelling on the top level were rescued or swam to safety, he said. Details were sketchy because bad weather and the remoteness of the area hampered communication.

Mr Choudhury said the accident occurred on the Brahmaputra river near Fakiragram in west Dhubri district.

The area is about 215 miles west of the state capital, Gauhati, and close to where the river enters Bangladesh. He said officials in that country had been contacted for help.

The area is dotted with riverside settlements and small islands, and boats are the most common mode of transport.

Strong winds and rain probably caused the accident, Mr Choudhury said. Police and paramilitary soldiers were sent to help local villagers with rescue efforts, he added.

Mohan Lal, a senior officer with the Border Security Force, said 35 troops were at the accident site on boats and were using hand-held searchlights. He said a team of federal rescue workers was also on its way.

He said troops had located the upturned and broken pieces of the boat but were unable to lift them without a crane.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement expressing shock and grief at the loss of life.