TIGARAS PORT, Indonesia – Indonesian officials said that 166 people are missing from a ferry sinking early this week at a popular lake on Sumatra, a much higher number than previously believed, as distraught and angry relatives pleaded Wednesday for a bigger search effort.
The boat, overcrowded with passengers and motorbikes, didn’t have a manifest and disaster officials have several times raised the number of people it was carrying as family members who rushed to Lake Toba in northern Sumatra provided information.
On Wednesday, the local military command released a list of the names of 166 missing people. A day earlier, disaster officials had said 94 people were missing though expected the number to rise.
Only 18 people were rescued and one death confirmed in the immediate response to the sinking Monday evening. Since then, the search and rescue effort involving 350 personnel and at least half a dozen boats has turned up items of clothing, bags and traces of oil from the boat.
An Associated Press reporter on Wednesday saw one body being transferred to an ambulance onshore. A rescuer, who didn’t give his name, said the dead woman was found about 4 miles from where the boat sank.
Suwarni, whose 20-year-old son and his girlfriend were on the ferry, slammed the search and rescue operation as slow and insufficient.
“Millions of questions keep me from sleeping,” she said between desperate sobs. “What kind of government is this which can’t protect their own people from unnecessary accidents? And after the accident they’re not able to find the victims.”
“I beg help to everyone to quickly find my son and his girlfriend, even if their remains, please find my son, return him to me,” Suwarni, who uses only one name, said.
Cellphone video released earlier in the week by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency showed the crew of another ferry attempting to rescue people struggling in the waters shortly after the sinking but being hampered by bad weather and rough waters.
The 440-square-mile Lake Toba, formed out of an ancient super volcano, is a popular sightseeing destination on the island of Sumatra.
The disaster has cast a tragic pall over holidays marking the end of Ramadan when tens of millions of Indonesians return to their hometowns.
Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with weak enforcement of safety regulations often to blame.
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