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Djibouti sunken boat death toll rises to 72

Written by: Staff
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DJIBOUTI, Apr 7 (Reuters) The death toll from a Djiboutian boat that sank carrying some 250 people on an annual religious pilgrimage has risen to 72 from 69, hospital officials said today.

The wooden boat laden with construction materials and three times the passengers it was built for went under just as it had sailed 100 metres from the port in Djibouti yesterday.

It had been steaming for the town of Tadjoura, 35 km northeast, when it capsized.

''The numbers have changed since last night ... the number is now 72,'' Said Kamil, acting director at Djibouti's main Peltier hospital, told Reuters.

He said two Ethiopians and one Yemeni were found floating in the sea overnight. About 10 people were still believed to be missing.

Thirty-six people were hospitalised, with seven in serious condition.

Many flocked to mosques to pray for the dead. Women wailed at the port, where hundreds had gathered, demanding to know what had caused the boat to capsize.

''Our dead, our dead, we want our dead,'' one woman cried.

The rescue operation was briefly called off during today's prayers and was due to restart in the afternoon.

The disaster was the worst to strike the tiny Red Sea state since April 2003, when flooding killed 50 people in one night.

WRONG BODIES No passenger list was available as people had crammed the boat quickly before it sailed off, leaving confusion as relatives searched for their kin.

They identified the dead from photos of loved ones posted in hospitals and police stations. Many had already begun burials overnight. However, in the rush to take them home, some had left with the wrong bodies.

''I arrived at the morgue and there are only three people there and my cousin in not among them,'' Abdi Farah, 32, said.

He had come to look for his cousin, whom he identified on photo no. 56, but was then told the body had already been taken by someone else.

The French navy and divers from the Combined Joint US Task Force Horn of Africa based in Djibouti assisted in the rescue operation.

The state of 300,000 is a hub of US counterterrorism operations in the region.

REUTERS SHR PM1633

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