If only more people like brothers Isaac and Ibrahim had spotted the visible danger signs and not boarded the boat in Kerala, there would have been fewer deaths in the Sunday tragedy.
In such an event, auto driver Shahul Hameed would have been spared the pain of transporting to the hospital, albeit without his knowledge, his sister’s children who were among the 22 dead in the disaster. Shahul Hameed rushed to the Thoovaltheeram beach in his three-wheeler on Sunday night on learning about the accident and began ferrying those rescued from the water for medical aid.
His sister and her three children were among 12 members of his family from Parappanangadi in Mamallpuram who died in the disaster. Most victims were women and children. “When I reached the spot, rescuers put some children taken out of the water in my auto. I rushed them to the nearest hospital.
“It is on reaching the hospital that I realised that they were my sister’s children. My sister and her three children died in the accident,” a grieving Hameed told a news channel.
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Five others from his sister’s family and three relatives also died in the tragedy, which exposed the brazen violations of safety rules governing boat rides as well as the lack of government support in the immediate wake of the accident.
A mother and her three children from Chettipadi village also perished on Sunday evening. Being a Sunday and a school vacation season, many families had gone to the Thoovaltheeram for the boat ride — the closest amusement spot.
While it turned into a distressing incident for those two families and many others, some escaped with their lives after deciding not to board the boat at the last moment.
Brothers Isaac and Ibrahim from Kondotty too wanted to take a boat ride but they developed second thoughts after seeing the vessel. “There was a difference of opinion among us about its safety. So, we decided to avoid it. When we went back, we heard a boat had overturned in the river.”
“It is only when people were brought to the shore in smaller boats that we realised it was the same vessel we were supposed to board,” one of them said.
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According to the brothers, the boat was not only packed beyond its capacity but it was tilting too. Unmindful of this, the person operating the boat was urging more people to board it saying it was the last trip.
Shamsudeen and his family of eight too avoided the tragedy. Shamsudeen saw the boat was tilting to one side. Immediately, he cancelled the four tickets he had brought. “I pointed out the problem to the person operating the boat but he insisted there was nothing to worry about… But I decided not to board the boat anyway.”
Local residents also told the media that the boat was packed beyond its capacity of 20 persons and that its operators did not heed the warnings of onlookers that the vessel was tilting. “The tragedy could have been avoided if the boat was not overcrowded or if it had not operated beyond the permissible time,” one resident said. “When the boat reached a bend in the river, it overturned as it was already tilting.”
Another resident said there was no government machinery or infrastructure like lights and ropes for rescue operations. The fishermen came with these items to rescue people from the water. Some felt that more people in the boat could have escaped had the vessel not been covered with glass on all sides, leaving only two doors for people to come out.
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Tanur resident Shefeeq echoed this opinion. Shefeeq, who had gone on the boat ride with some friends, said as he was sitting atop the boat’s roof when it tilted and he was thrown into the water.
“Those who were inside the boat, however, could not escape as there were only two exit doors. All the windows were covered with glass. The children could not hold their breath underwater for long,” he told a news channel. “We gave CPR to many, most of them children who had swallowed water and were lifeless. It was so tragic,” he said.
While 22 people died in the tragedy, eight others were rescued and admitted in hospitals. The boat capsized near an estuary close to the Thoovaltheeram beach in the Tanur area around 7.30 pm on Sunday.
(With agency inputs)