Horrifying scenes have come out of Iraq as what was supposed to be a festive event became marred by shock and tragedy, as at least 83 people drowned in the Tigris river near Mosul when an overloaded ferry capsized. An AFP report put the death toll at "almost 100 people" as the rescue operation continued into the night.
Families and revelers were celebrating the Kurdish new year on Thursday, known as Nowruz, as well as Mother's Day (marked as March 21 in the Middle East), when the ferry began sinking down on one side before turning completely over, trapping men, women and children under the boat and in an unusually strong current.
Mosul residents said it was the worst such accident in recent memory, which says a lot considering Mosul's past years of chaos under ISIS occupation since 2014 and subsequent battle to liberate Iraq's northern major city.
The Guardian reports a ghastly scene of families desperately trying to survive while being swept along the swelled river after a rainy season resulted in the region seeing more precipitation than what it's used to:
Many of the women and children could be seen struggling to swim against a strong current, their heads bobbing in the water opposite restaurants and an amusement park where people had been celebrating minutes earlier.
“My wife and three daughters are in the water,” one man was reported as pleading with police, hoping for a swift rescue. “There is a large number of fathers and mothers who are looking for their children,” an Iraqi official told reporters.
Footage of a frantic rescue operation involving dozens of women and children helplessly floating in a fast current soon emerged online. A reported 61 among the dead were women, and 19 were children, according to Iraq's interior ministry.
Safety procedures were not followed and the Tigris river was already at a higher water level , witnesses mentioned that the ferry was over filled with riders which contributed to the disaster, 60 dead and scores missing in #mosul on the day of #Nawrooz celebration pic.twitter.com/ZMl1xiP58K— Steven nabil (@thestevennabil) March 21, 2019
The death toll is expected to rise, which some early reports have put at 100. Many were still unaccounted for late into the evening local time.
An official investigation into the tragedy was ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who further expressed condolences to the families of victims.
#BREAKING - First footage of #Iraqi ferry capsizing due to overloading. 83 bodies have been found dead, over 70 rescued, 25 still missing. Authorities have charged ferry owner for reckless disregard of safety warnings on water levels & exceeding ferry capacity by over twice. pic.twitter.com/wMscqCDmwn— Al Sura (@AlSuraEnglish) March 21, 2019
Meanwhile Iraq's justice ministry has reportedly ordered the arrest of nine officials in charge of the ferry company conducting operations during Thursday's mass drowning.
Several days of heavy rains, and greater than usual water flow through the Mosul dam, also contributed to unsafe conditions on the river, something which Iraqi authorities had reportedly issued public warnings about.