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At least 79 bus passengers drown in India
Updated: 2005-11-26 17:10

At least 79 people died in two separate overnight bus accidents in the rain-ravaged southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, officials said on Saturday.

In one incident, at least 49 bodies were fished out from a flooded stream in Perumalkoil village in Thanjavur district, about 300 kms (185 miles) south of state capital Chennai, formerly known as Madras.

"We picked up 41 bodies till Friday night and this (Saturday) morning, we found eight more. The final figure could go up," senior government official E. Vasudevan told Reuters.

The dead include 22 women and seven children, he added.

"We do not know exactly how many passengers were in the bus, which the locals say was overcrowded. May be 80, may be more," he said.

Thirty-one people were undergoing treatment at hospitals in Pattukottai, the nearest town, the official said.

The accident occurred when the bus driver tried to cross an overflowing causeway across a jungle stream that is dry most part of the year except during the monsoon rains.

The bus rolled into the stream and was swept away for 50 feet. Firemen used cranes and ropes to pull it out, local media reports, quoting witnesses, said.

Earlier on Friday, at least 30 passengers of another bus died when the vehicle was swept away in flash floods in Ramanathapuram district, about 450 kms (280 miles) south of Chennai.

"We have recovered 30 bodies so far, including 18 women. The search is continuing for more bodies downstream," K. Sellamuthu, a senior government official, told Reuters.

He said according to the bus conductor, who survived, there were 73 passengers in the vehicle when the accident took place.

Tamil Nadu has been lashed by heavy rains over the past few days due to a deep depression over the Bay of Bengal.

In badly hit Cuddalore, Tiruchirapalli and Karur districts, over 200,000 people have been displaced over the last couple of days, a senior official said.

"Although the rains have abated, there has been unprecedented and extensive flooding in about 12 districts," a government statement said.

Several trains had to be canceled due to flooding of tracks.

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