Search operations by five teams on Monday to trace 18 people who went missing after their boat capsized in the Rupnarayan river here on Sunday failed to yield any result. The country boat carrying 29 people, including 11 children, who were on a picnic, has also been not traced so far.
District authorities identified 17 missing people, while the identity of one person is still not known. There were three children among the 11 rescued on Sunday night.
Distraught relatives and friends came down from Kolkata, which is about 90 km away, and spent an anxious day by the side of the river in hope of some news of their loved ones. Frustrated, they held up trains in the local railway station to protest the delay in conducting the search.
An inconsolable Bhola Ram arrived here on Monday morning only to learn that both his elder brothers and three of his nephews were reported missing. He could trace only one of his nephews, Chris Ram (9), who was unconscious when he was brought to the shore on Sunday night and was being treated at a local nursing home.
“My family had come here for a Sunday outing, but look what has happened,” Bhola Ram said.
Ajay Kumar Das, who was on the boat, managed to swim ashore. He blamed the local administration for failing to act in time.
“The accident happened at 3.30 p.m. but the police arrived only by 6 a.m. They are just conducting operations for recovering the bodies now,” he said.
Teams from the National Disaster Response Force, the Coast Guard, the Disaster Management Group of the Kolkata police and the Kolkata Port Trust are conducting the search and rescue operations. A hovercraft of the Coast Guard is scanning the area.
However, search operations are impeded by the poor visibility in the murky waters and the cycle of tides.
“The water is not deep enough so only inflatable speed-boats are being used,” said district Superintendent of Police Bastab Baidya.
Underwater visibility is so poor in the daytime that divers cannot see and are in fact groping in the waters, said Raj Sukhdev, Commandant of the 106 battalion of the National Disaster Response Force.
Local fishermen say it will take between 72 and 90 hours for the bodies to surface.
“If the bodies sink to the river bed, they will be caught in the silt, which will not clear unless there is high tide,” said Kishore Mohan Bera, who has been fishing in these parts for nearly 50 years.
District authorities have now set up fishing nets across the river stream in the hope of trapping any body lying under water.