A ferry overloaded with people celebrating the Kurdish new year and Mother’s Day capsized in the Tigris River near the Iraqi city of Mosul on Friday (AEDT), killing nearly 100 people, including families, officials said.
Many of the dead were women and children who could be seen struggling to swim against a strong current, their heads bobbing in the water opposite restaurants and an amusement park where people had been celebrating minutes earlier.
An Interior Ministry official said 94 people were killed in the accident, which residents said was the worst in recent memory.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Head of the Civil Defence in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province Colonel Hussam Khalil told The Associated Press the accident occurred as scores of people were out in the tourist area, known as Ghabat, celebrating Nowruz, which marks the Kurdish new year and the arrival of spring.
The boat had been ferrying people to a small island nearby.
Abdulrazzaq Falih, a rescuer with the river police of Mosul, said he pulled more than 20 bodies from the water.
“Children, women, and young, what can I tell you? It was a difficult situation,” he said.
A man who identified himself as Abdul-Jabbar al-Jbouri appealed for the police to look for his wife and children.
“My wife and three daughters are in the water!” he screamed.
Mosul was devastated by the war against the Islamic State group, which occupied the city for three years.
Iraqi forces drove the militants from Mosul in 2017 after a gruelling campaign that left entire neighbourhoods in ruins, and residents are still struggling to rebuild.
Videos of the ferry disaster posted online showed people struggling against the strong current. Young men who had been lunching on the banks jumped into the water with their clothes on to try and save people.
The usually tame Tigris is running high this time of year, fed by snowmelt from mountains in Turkey.
The river swelled further after a rainy season that brought more precipitation than in previous years.
Mr Khalil said the ferry sank because of a technical problem, and that there weren’t many boats in the area to rescue people.
He said more than 80 people were on the ferry when it sank. Others said the number of people on the boat was much higher.