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11 July 2011

Volga disaster: 110 bodies trapped in sunken boat

Reuters: A survivor wraps herself in a blanket after being rescued from the Bulgaria.

KAZAN, Russia — Divers searching the wreck of a Russian Volga river boat reportedly saw more than one hundred corpses trapped inside the pleasure craft when they recovered eight bodies Monday.

A few dozen divers working with underwater lights searched the Bulgaria, a double-decked boat built in 1955 that survivors said listed to its side and sank in minutes Sunday during stormy weather with nearly 200 people on board.

Nine people were confirmed dead, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said — one woman who was found Sunday and eight other people whose bodies were pulled from the wreck overnight.

Eighty people were rescued, most of them climbing aboard a passing boat after more than an hour in the water, but there is little hope anyone else has survived.

"According to the divers, the chances of finding anyone alive are minimal," she said.

An estimated 110 bodies, including those of 30 children, remained in the sunken ship, the Interfax news agency cited a regional search and rescue service as saying.

As many as 60 of the passengers may have been children, Russian media reported, and survivors said some 30 children had gathered in a room near the stern of the ship to play just minutes before it sank.

Andrianova said 185 people were believed to have been onboard, but the ministry's regional branch in Tatarstan later said the number was 199 including 18 unregistered passengers.

'Two ships did not stop'
The bodies of five women, two men and a child had been recovered by midnight, said a spokesman for the ministry's branch in Tatarstan, where the boat sank two miles from shore in a broad section of the Volga river.

One survivor told the national news channel Vesti 24 that other ships refused to come to their aid.

"Two ships did not stop, although we waved our hands," said the man in his 40s, who stood on the shore amid weeping passengers, some of them wrapped in towels and blankets. He held another man, who was weeping desperately.

The top Volga district emergency official, Igor Panshin, said bodies could be seen in the 56-year-old pleasure craft's restaurants and the hold. Citing survivors, he said the boat sank in about eight minutes.

There were sobs of relief as anxious relatives greeted survivors who were brought to the port in Kazan, Tatarstan's capital, late Sunday.

"The child is back there," one man cried, wailing with grief as he hugged a woman.

One woman told state-run Rossiya-24 television she lost her grip on her daughter as they struggled to escape.

"Practically no children made it out," the woman said. "There were very many children on the boat, very many."

Criminal probe
President Dmitry Medvedev ordered investigators to determine the cause of the disaster and prosecutors opened a criminal investigation. Russian media reports focused on the age of the boat, built in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Cruises on the Volga, which cuts through the heart of Russia hundreds of miles east of Moscow and drains into the Caspian Sea, are popular among Russians and foreigners.

The Bulgaria had taken its passengers from Kazan to a town down river Saturday and was returning when it sank in 65-feet-deep water.