Tragedy struck pilgrims on their way to Lakshmi Narsimhaswamy templa at Antarvedi when an overloaded country boat capsized while crossing Vasishta river near Biyyaputippa in Mogaltur mandal of West Godavari district on Saturday leaving 11 dead and several others missing.

Around 30-35 pilgrims reportedly swam to safety after the boat turned turtle. However, the authorities had no information on the whereabouts of at least 15 persons who are now feared to have drowned.

According to eye-witnesses, 60-80 persons reportedly boarded the boat as against its capacity of 30 at the boarding point near Biyyaputippa, which was allegedly unmanned by the police. It capsized after chugging for a distance of hardly three to four metres in the Nalli creek from where it has to travel to the sea via theVasishta. Expert swimmers and Naval helicopters were making a thorough search for the bodies till late in the evening.

The pilgrims had boarded the boat for the traditional holy dip in the sea on the ‘Magapournami’. They planned to witness the special rituals for the deity Lakshminarasimha Swamy on the last day of the six-day Antarvedi Utsavalu after the holy dip.

Ministers Vatti Vasanta Kumar and Pitani Satyanarayana, who visited the accident site, said an inquiry would be ordered in the wake of criticism against the district administration for its failure to ensure preventive measures. Praja Rajyam, TDP and CPI (M) staged a protest at the place, preventing the bodies from being shifted blaming the official machinery for the tragedy.

The government announced ex gratia of Rs. 1 lakh each to the families of victims. At a meeting of the Cabinet here, it was also decided to pay Rs. 50,000 each under ‘Apathbandhu’ and the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to the families. Agriculture Minister N. Raghuveera Reddy, who was asked by Chief Minister K. Rosaiah to visit the accident site, said the boat capsized after ramming an empty country-boat.

Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan expressed deep grief and shock over the tragedy. Leader of the Opposition N. Chandrababu Naidu directed TDP leaders to extend assistance in the rescue operations. BJP State president Bandaru Dattatreya said deaths occurred because of heavy fog and demanded payment of Rs. 5 lakh ex gratia each to the victims’ families.

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