Death toll climbs to 51 as rescue operation continues at Tanda Dam

PESHAWAR: As Pakistan Army troops Tuesday continued rescue and relief operation, the bodies of 51 students and teachers were retrieved from the Tanda Dam lake in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Kohat district, while five students were rescued from the freezing water.

Rescue 1122, the civil administration and military personnel, including army engineers and Special Service Group's divers, have been working day and night for the last 72 hours, according to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

As the search for one missing individual is ongoing, the military's media wing stated, the rescued students were shifted to District Hospital Kohat.

The children and teachers drowned when their overloaded boat capsized in the lake, police said, after divers spent three days dragging bodies from freezing waters.

The boys aged between seven and 14 were all students of a madrassah and had been taken for a day trip to the scenic popular weekend tourist destination on Sunday.

"The water of the dam was freezing due to cold weather that impeded the rescue mission. But today the divers were able to dive deep to recover the remaining bodies," said Khateer Ahmad, a senior official with Rescue 1122.

The bodies of a teacher and one skipper were also pulled from the water, he added, bringing the death toll to 51.

Muhammad Umar, who sells tea at a picnic site overlooking the lake, said dozens of parents and relatives had gathered over the past few days.

"Every time a body was recovered from the scene, they would jump onto the diver to see if it was their son and every time we would hear them screaming in pain and anguish," he told AFP over the phone on Tuesday.

"I have not witnessed such scenes in my life, it's something that can't be explained in words."

Tanda Dam lake is about five kilometres (3 miles) away from the madrassah — an Islamic school that offers free religious education — in Kohat.

"The boat was overloaded; its capacity was around 20 to 25 persons," police spokesperson Fazal Naeem told AFP.

He added that five people were rescued including four students and one teacher.

"I got stuck under the boat," 11-year-old survivor Muhammad Mustafa told AFP from his hospital bed on Sunday.

"My shawl and sweater weighed me down, so I took them off."

"The water was extremely cold and my body went numb. I thought I was going to pass out when a man on an inflatable tube saved me."

Drownings are common in Pakistan, when aged and overloaded vessels lose their stability and pitch passengers into the water.

On the same day, at least 41 people were confirmed dead after their bus crashed into a ravine in southwestern Balochistan province.

In July last year, at least 18 women drowned after an overloaded boat carrying about 100 members of the same family capsized during a marriage procession between two villages.

— Additional input by AFP

— Thumbnail image by ISPR

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