At least 71 killed as overloaded ferry sinks in Iraq's Tigris river

General view of the scene where an overloaded ferry sank in the Tigris river near Mosul in Iraq March 21,2019

Gen. Saad Maan said 71 people had died, adding that 55 have been rescued, including 19 children.

Local information source Mosul Eye has tweeted an "urgent appeal" for people to go down to the river near the Fifth Bridge and the Old Bridge in the city centre to help with the rescue. Reuters said, citing police and medical sources, that at least 40 people died in the accident.

Reconstruction of Mosul, much of which was destroyed in a military campaign to recapture the city from Islamic State militants in 2017, has barely begun and is haphazard.

Videos showed a number of people struggling to stay afloat amid floating bodies in the fast-flowing water in the Tigris, which appeared engorged.

The river's level was high because of a rainy season that brought more precipitation than in previous years.

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Most of the casualties on the ferry were women and children who could not swim, according to the head of Mosul's Civil Defence Authority Husam Khalil.

Kahil said the ferry can normally carry 50 people but "there were 250 on board before the incident".

The small boat, which was carrying people to a popular picnic area, was believed to be carrying around 150 people when it overturned. He said it wasn't long before he saw people drowning, their heads bobbing up and "sliding away across the water like plastic bags".

"I can not describe the scene, it's a catastrophe", he said.

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad offered its condolences to "the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the tragic ferry accident on the Tigris River near Mosul". The holiday is celebrated as the Persian New Year in Iran.

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