A triple-deck ferry packed with hundreds of travelers heading home for an Islamic festival capsized as they disembarked in southern Bangladesh, leaving at least 37 dead and scores missing, authorities said Saturday.
M.V. Coco, traveling from the capital Dhaka, went down late Friday as it arrived at Nazirhat town in the coastal district of Bhola, 64 miles (104 kilometers) to the south. Some survivors said the boat hit a river shoal as it approached the terminal, breaking the hull and allowing water in. As passengers scrambled to disembark, the vessel then tipped and partially sank in the Tetulia River.
"As I saw water in the lower deck I jumped through the window and swam ashore," said Shahidul Islam, a survivor. "Also, many passengers were frightened after seeing water in the lower deck and started rushing out causing the boat to tilt on one side."
The ferry was crowded with people heading home to celebrate the Eid al-Adha festival, but it is unclear how many were on board. Dhaka's private ETV television station said the ferry was carrying more than 1,500 people but many had already disembarked when the vessel went down.
The ferry had a sanctioned capacity of 1,000 passengers, police officials said. Authorities usually don't keep passenger lists to make clear how many are on board.
Gas torches were used to cut open submerged cabins, and local residents joined divers to search for survivors inside the ferry. Police and fire brigade divers pulled 37 bodies from the sunken part of the vessel before darkness halted rescue work for the night, said Saiful Islam and Showkat Hossain, local police officials supervising the effort. Many of the dead were women and children.
Officials did not say how many people were missing. ATN television station said up to 80 people were still unaccounted for.
Police said they were waiting for a rescue vessel coming from the southern city of Barisal to pull the submerged ferry from the water.
"The picture about the death toll will be clear once the ferry is salvaged," Islam said.
Hundreds of anxious relatives massed on the sandy river bank and searched for missing loved ones.
Some complained that rescue work was slow as officials were on holiday for Saturday's Eid celebration.
"The ferry sank just before midnight Friday, but rescuers did not arrive until the morning," said survivor Sohel Hossain.
Ferries are a key mode of transport in this delta nation of 150 million people. Accidents blamed on lax rules, overcrowding and faulty boats are common.