A ferry packed with families celebrating Kurdish New Year sank in a swollen river in the former militant stronghold of Mosul Thursday, leaving more than 70 people dead in Iraq's worst accident in years.
There was an outpouring of grief among residents who only recently resumed festivities on the banks of the Tigris after the northern city's recapture from the ISIS group.
The vessel was packed with men, women, and children crossing the Tigris to go to a popular picnic area to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year and a holiday day across the country.
While war and militant attacks have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq in recent years, such accidents are relatively rare.
Nearly 150 people were on board, including over 80 women and children, according to health ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr.
Rescue teams were able to recover a number of bodies from the river, and search operations are still ongoing, he said.
The authorities had warned people to be careful after several days of heavy rains led to water being released through the Mosul dam, causing the river level to rise.
The ferry was loaded with over twice the permitted capacity, Civil Defense General Manager Brigadier Malik Bohan told state-owned Al Iraqiya.
Videos shared on social media showed a fast-flowing, bloated river and dozens of people in the water around the partly submerged boat.
Hundreds of people who had flocked to the forested area for the first days of spring gathered on the river banks as the disaster unfolded.
Ambulances and police vehicles transported the dead and wounded to hospitals in the city of nearly two million people.
Photos of victims, many of them women and children, were posted on the walls of a morgue for families unable to enter because of the large crowd outside to identify their relatives.
Previously Iraq's last major boat disaster was in March 2013 when a floating restaurant sank in Baghdad, killing five people.
Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi put health services on alert and instructed all available teams to mobilize to find survivors after Thursday's accident.
He ordered an immediate investigation and demanded that the findings be presented to him within 24 hours, according to a statement.
Former prime minister Haider al-Abadi called for a period of national mourning.
Several political leaders denounced the lack of safety at dilapidated leisure facilities in a country where the dismal state of public services was one of the triggers for widespread protests last year.
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