Bangladesh Finds 132 Bodies From Ferries

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- Rescue workers have recovered 132 bodies after two ferry boats capsized during tropical storms on different Bangladeshi rivers, and hundreds of people were missing, authorities said Tuesday.

In response, the government banned ferries and other river vessels from traveling at night during the April-May storm season, the Shipping Ministry said. Authorities ordered inquiries into Monday's ferry disasters.

Some 127 bodies were recovered after a double-deck ferry, MV Mitali, went down in the Buriganga River near the capital Dhaka, the ministry said. Among the dead from that ferry were 44 women and 25 children.

The rescue work was called off after a new storm on Tuesday night that toppled many trees and electricity poles, plunging parts of the capital city into darkness.

Rescue workers using huge cranes managed to partially lift the sunken boat from the river bed and tow it closer to shore. Authorities have deployed another salvage ship to try and completely lift the boat, where many bodies are believed to be trapped inside.

More than 200 people were still missing from that ferry.

Earlier, the ML Majlishpur ferry, carrying about 90 members of a wedding party, capsized in the Meghna River, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Dhaka.

Authorities said about 33 passengers from that boat swam ashore, but more than 50 others, including the bride, were missing and feared dead. Five bodies had been recovered by Tuesday, said Priyatosh Shah, a government administrator in the area.

Survivors of the larger boat disaster said dark clouds enveloped the river when the storm hit.

``We pleaded with the crew to turn and steer the boat closer to shore. But they ignored us and told us get back to our cabins,'' said Mohammad Iqbal, a survivor who was waiting at the river bank for news of his missing wife and sister.

The 200-ton boat overturned and sank within five minutes when the storm hit, packing winds up to 70 kilometers (44 miles) an hour.

Thousands of relatives of the missing waited under open skies on the river bank, where the recovered bodies were being kept at a makeshift morgue.

Hasina Begum, a school teacher, wept in front of the body of her 2-year-old daughter, Mithila, who died in the accident.

``I could not save my daughter. I've no right to live,'' said Begum, who was returning to her home in southern Bangladesh after attending a conference in Dhaka. ``My little daughter wanted to see Dhaka city.''

Bangladesh media reports said the ferry was carrying up to 400 passengers, but some managed to swim ashore.

``The death toll is certain to rise,'' said Selim Newaz Chowdhury, public relations officer at the Bangladesh Fire Brigade, which is conducting the rescue work. ``No one really knows how many people were on board the ferry or how many of them survived.''

Ferries in Bangladesh don't always keep passenger lists, making it difficult to determine the exact number.

The accidents occurred as strong winds and rain lashed the South Asian country. Hundreds of flimsy homes were damaged by falling trees and electricity poles, killing at least a dozen people Monday in the country's north.

Tropical storms are common this time of year in Bangladesh, as are boating accidents.

Ferry accidents, often blamed on overloading, faulty construction and disregard for safety measures, claim hundreds of lives every year in the delta nation of 130 million people.

Twenty-two people died when a double-deck ferry carrying about 200 passengers sank April 12 in the Nagchinni River in northern Kishoreganj district.

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