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At least 94 people dead in Iraq ferry sinking

At least 94 people dead in Iraq ferry sinking
This image taken from video shows the rescue effort in the Tigris River after a overloaded ferry sank near Mosul, Iraq. (Associated Press)

At least 94 people died and 55 were rescued Thursday when a ferry overloaded with holiday revelers sank in the Tigris River near the Iraqi city of Mosul, officials said.

The ferry had been taking Kurdish families and others celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival, on a trip to Umm Rabaen, known as the Tourist Island, more than 2 miles upstream of the city center.

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The number of passengers on the ferry exceeded its capacity, said Maj. Gen. Saad Maan, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. The vessel was meant to carry 40 to 50 people, but was reported to have more than 100 on board.

Pictures uploaded to social media depicted a capsized ferry floating before a nearby amusement park, with a crimson-topped merry-go-round and other rides visible in the background.

One video showed passengers’ heads dotting the water’s surface, screaming as they struggled against a strong current. Swimmers on the periphery could be seen trying to reach those floating in the center of the river. Among those rescued, officials said, were at least 19 children.

Other uploaded pictures showed grieving family members gathering at Al Salam hospital, where many of the dead were taken.

Pleas were sent out for people picnicking near the river’s edge to assist rescue efforts, and images were shared of children, many wrapped in blankets, asking for their families to collect them.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered an investigation, while President Barham Salih tweeted that “the tragedy will not pass without harsh punishment” of those responsible.

The deaths come as Mosul, following a lengthy occupation by Islamic State extremists, struggles to move beyond the subsequent widespread destruction wrought by the government’s U.S.-backed campaign to free the major city.

More than a year on, despite snail-paced reconstruction efforts, a sense of security had begun to return; restaurants and cafes, especially those on the eastern shore of the Tigris bisecting Mosul, saw brisk business.

But crowds have already thinned after a spate of car bomb attacks in recent weeks. Thursday’s incident renewed concern over Iraq’s crumbling infrastructure amid accusations of widespread graft.

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