Updated: 01/05/12 : 07:45:41
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World :: Over 100 Die As Ferry Sinks In Bad Weather

More than 100 people have been killed and a similar number are missing after an overcrowded river ferry broke in two and sank in India during a severe storm, police said.

About 150 others were rescued or swam to safety after the incident - but emergency workers struggled to find other survivors, as they were hampered by strong winds, torrential rain and darkness.

India's prime minister Manmohan Singh called the sinking in the north-east of the country a "tragedy".

The double-decker ferry, which was carrying around 350 men, women and children, reportedly had no lifejackets on board.

About 105 bodies have been recovered from the shores of the fast-flowing Brahmaputra river, which is believed to have a reputation as a treacherous, turbulent waterway.

Eyewitness Rahul Karmakar told the AFP news agency: "I could see people being swept away as the river current was very strong."

He added that the "chances of survival seem to be remote" in the river in Assam state, which was swollen by the heavy storm. The sinking happened as torrential pre-monsoon rains lashed the region.

"The weather is very bad there. It is making the rescue efforts very difficult," said state transport minister Chandan Brahma.

Strong winds uprooted trees, blocking roads leading to the disaster site and preventing some rescue teams from reaching the area, said officials.

More rain was forecast for the area on Tuesday.

The boat was travelling from Dhubri, around 186 miles from Assam's main commercial city Guwahati, to Fakirganj, when the tragedy happened.

Mr Singh said he was "shocked and grieved to know about the loss of lives", adding he had given instructions "for all possible assistance to the government of Assam in relief operations".

The death toll could make the ferry sinking one of the worst in recent memory in South Asia, where such disasters are common due to lax safety standards and overloading.

In one of the last major ferry disasters in India, at least 79 Muslim pilgrims drowned when an overcrowded boat carrying 150 people sank in the eastern state of West Bengal in October 2010.

In March this year, 138 people died in neighbouring Bangladesh when an overloaded ferry carrying 200 people sank in the Meghna river southeast of the capital Dhaka.