Putin flies in to mourn as 20 still missing from boat

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 14, 2011 11:45 AM
Putin flies in to mourn as 20 still missing from boat

By Gleb Bryanski

KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew into Kazan Thursday as divers recovered more bodies from the wreck of a tourist boat that sank to the bottom of the Volga River, bringing the official death toll to 112.

Twenty people were still missing from Russia's worst river disaster in three decades and were presumed dead as divers neared the end of their search of the boat that sank Sunday, regional Emergencies Ministry official Igor Panshin said.

He said at least 24 of the bodies recovered were those of children.

The Bulgaria, a 79-meter river cruiser built in 1955, listed onto its right side during a thunderstorm and sank in minutes in a broad stretch of the Volga in the Tatarstan region, trapping many passengers inside.

Putin laid down crimson roses at the river port in Kazan from where the doomed Bulgaria had departed.

Widely seen as the nation's key decision-maker, Putin arrived in the Tatarstan region, of which Kazan is capital, four days after the tragedy. He was joined by Tatarstan's leader Rustam Minnikhanov.

Many such disasters in Russia are blamed on negligence and corruption despite tough talk from President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin, who had vowed when he was president between 2000 and 2008 to bring order with a "dictatorship of law."

Survivors have said up to 30 children had gathered in a recreation room on the boat shortly before it sank, and emergency officials have said divers saw many bodies of children in the room.

Fluffy toys and flowers were laid out on the embankment on Thursday.

Searchers have broadened the scope of their operation to an area stretching 190 km (120 miles) around the site.

Prosecutors said the boat lacked a license to carry passengers and had a problem with its left engine when it set out for Kazan, capital of the Tatarstan region, after taking passengers to a town down river Saturday.

Emergency officials say the boat was meant for up to 140 people but that 208 were aboard. The director of the company that leased the boat and a river transport inspector were ordered held under arrest Wednesday.

Authorities plan to use a crane to raise the wreck of the Bulgaria from the riverbed in several days.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Moscow)