Cyclone Tauktae toll hits 130 as 49 confirmed dead in barge sinking
The Indian Navy said it had recovered the bodies of 49 people after a barge sank off Mumbai during a powerful storm that killed 81 others on the country’s western coast.
The barge, owned by state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), was carrying 261 people when it sank near an offshore oilfield on Monday evening as Cyclone Tauktae blew ashore.
Navy ships and helicopters, battling extreme weather, managed to rescue 186 people and found 27 more bodies in operations since Wednesday night, raising the toll in the tragedy to 49, Navy spokesman, Vivek Madhwal told dpa.
Twenty-six people were still missing but the death toll was likely to rise as hopes of finding survivors began to recede, with the rescue operation continuing into its fourth day on Thursday.
Survivors, wearing life jackets, told local media that they were floating in the sea for as long as 12 hours when they were rescued by the Navy.
ONGC said the barge was carrying personnel for offshore drilling when it got caught in the storm.
Federal authorities have ordered a probe over why the barge remained in the area despite storm warnings.
The barge’s captain had ignored cyclone warnings and 14 of the life-rafts on the vessel had holes in them, its chief engineer, Rahman Shaikh, told the Indian Express daily.
Cyclone Tauktae, the strongest cyclone to strike the region in over two decades, packed winds reaching 200 kilometres per hour when it made landfall in Gujarat state late Monday.
The death toll in other storm-related incidents – mostly houses and trees collapse on the Indian coasts – rose to 81 on Thursday.
Fifty-three were killed in Gujarat and 18 in Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, state disaster management officials said.
Another 10 were killed in Goa, Karnataka and Kerala states.
Some 16,500 homes were damaged in Gujarat as the storm forced evacuations of more than 200,000 people and cut power for millions in the affected region.
Premier Narendra Modi took an aerial survey of Gujarat after which he announced financial assistance of 10 billion rupees ($731 million) for relief measures.