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 Thursday, killing at least 83 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. The death toll from the accident, which residents said was the worst in recent memory, was expected to rise as people waited on the banks of the Tigris for news of loved ones, the AP reports. Col. Hussam Khalil, head of the Civil Defense in Iraq's northern Nineveh province, said 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 tourist island nearby. 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. 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, with one witness saying there were 150 people aboard. An investigation has been ordered, nine ferry workers have been detained, and an arrest warrant is out for the island's owner. 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 grueling campaign that left entire neighborhoods in ruins, and residents are still struggling to rebuild. (After another ferry capsized, a man survived 40 hours trapped inside.)