OKARA/Sheikhupura - At least three people died and several were missing after a ferry capsized in River Ravi near Nankana Sahib on Friday.
The rescue operation, which was called off by the civil administration as the darkness fell, was resumed after army divers were dispatched to the site under the directions from Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa.
The boat sailed around 12pm Friday from Nankana's tehsil Syed Wala to Okara with dozens of people aboard and capsized shortly after the departure.
There was a lot of confusion about the number of people onboard the ill-fated boat that could only accommodate 60 people.
The ferry was carrying 70-100 passengers, according to officials. But some local sources said there were at least 130 people onboard, while some others even put the number of travellers as high as 200. They said dozens of motorcycles were also being shipped on the old and rotten boat.
"The ferry was overloaded with passengers," Deputy Commissioner Saira Umar said, adding that majority of people swam to the bank on their own, while rescue teams saved eight others, who were shifted to hospital.
She confirmed the death of three persons, including a four-year-old girl named Muqaddas.
According to Chuchak Police and Rescue 1122, the dead bodies of two minor girls had been pulled out from water.
Local source in Nankana district told The Nation that there were more than 130 persons onboard. Eyewitnesses said around 60 people themselves swam to the river bank while some others were rescued by the locals.
The boat had left Syed Wala at noon and met the accident near Jhedue village, 40kms north-east of Okara city. It reportedly sank after it was damaged by the iron spikes of the under-construction Sher Shah Suri Bridge at River Ravi.
A local journalist, Shahzad Wattoo from Chuchak village of Okara, who arrived at the site, told The Nation correspondent that the boat collided into the iron bars of the under-construction bridge and the wooden floor of the boat was damaged badly.
Water started gushing in the boat, causing panic among the people which in turn resulted in capsizing of the boat.
Sher Khan, a farmer of Jhedue village said the water in the otherwise dry river had appeared some 4-5 days ago as all the canals of the area were closed for annual de-silting.
Moreover, the recent rain spells, especially in the upper areas of the country, had filled the river sufficiently for boating purposes.
The rescue teams from Okara, Nankana and Faisalabad districts were taking part in the rescue operation while police teams also struggled to save the lives.
It is common for residents of the area to travel between the river banks on wooden boats fitted with motor engines.
A team of Pakistan Army divers were also dispatched to the site of the incident on directions from Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“COAS directs special search efforts for victims of the capsized boat near Nankana Sahib. Army divers team have moved for the search operation,” said a tweet by the army’s media wing.
Earlier in the day time operation, the civil administration employed around 40 divers. As many as 11 vehicles - five from Nankana, three each form Faisalabad and Okara and one from Sheikhupura were dispatched to the site, according to Nankana deputy commissioner.
This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 04-Feb-2017 here.