Begum waits at Pachchar Government Primary School in Shibchar of Madaripur yesterday for the body of her daughter Nishita. Nishita was supposed to start college this week. Recovered bodies of the Pinak-6 disaster were being taken to the school for the families to identify. Photo: Anisur Rahman
He grabbed and held on to her hand in the water for several minutes after Pinak-6 went down in the Padma and the siblings struggled to stay afloat in the raging current.
Eight-year-old Irene eventually slipped through Akram's fingers.
Akram, 18, frantically looked for her in the water. Once on dry land, his search continued for his sister, father and mother, who were all on board the vessel.
Five days later, Akram finally got to hold his sister's hand again. He held on to her cold hands yesterday.
Irene, a student of Chandana Government Primary School, was buried along with 11 unidentified passengers of the vessel at Shibchar Municipal graveyard in Madaripur after Juma prayers yesterday.
A namaz-e-janaza was held at the playground of Pachchar Government Primary School in Shibchar where the dead bodies had been kept.
"How could I take my sister's body home? To whom I take the body?" said Akram, who hails from Barisal.
His father Dulal and mother Taslima are missing. They were returning to Gazipur from their Barisal home after celebrating Eid there.
"They [his parents] were inside the hull at the time of the accident. Minutes before the capsize I took my sister to the upper deck of the launch and jumped into river when it started to turn over," said Akram, a chauffeur by profession.
He now waits for the bodies of his parents at the Pachchar Government Primary School.
Of the 40 bodies recovered so far, the bodies of 35 passengers were taken to the school as of yesterday noon. The bodies of 24 victims were handed over to family members after identification. Eleven were buried unidentified. Five bodies would be kept at the school for the next 24 hours for identification.
The air of the school is heavy with the stench of five-day-old corpses and the sadness of family members. It was very difficult to identify the decomposing bodies. Family members of the victims were relying on the clothes on the bodies to identify their loved ones.
Nilufar Begum has been at the school for the last two days waiting for the body of her 16-year-old daughter Afroza, a student of Motijheel Ideal College in the capital.
Nilufar, her daughter and niece Ima were returning to their Munshiganj home after a visit to her sister's in Madaripur. Nilufar found Ima's body on Thursday.
"I recognised Ima by her clothes," she said.
Mahmuda of Gopalganj identified her five-year-old daughter Merry the same way. She is waiting for the body of her son Anis, 3.
"Oh Allah, please help me get my son. I don't want anything else," cried Mahmuda.
Pinak-6, on its way to Mawa from Kawrakandi, was carrying more than 200 passengers against a capacity of 85. It sank in the choppy waters amid strong winds at Mawa around 11:00am on Monday.
The vessel is yet to be traced under water, frustrating the family members of the missing passengers.
At a press briefing at Mawa rest house yesterday, Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said they had completed searching a vast area using modern technology and would continue to search for Pinak-6 in new areas.
"I am hopeful that the launch would be found," said the minister who lost three nieces in the accident.
Talking to The Daily Star, Shamsuddoha Khandakar, chairman of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, said they had carried out the search 10 kilomtres downstream to locate the sunken launch.
"We held a meeting with the shipping minister and the heads of all agencies taking part in the salvage operation today [yesterday] and decided that we'll search five kilometres more downstream tomorrow [today]," he told The Daily Star.
Captain Nazrul Islam, head of the Navy team engaged in the rescue operation, said they were using state-of-the-art technologies like sonar side scanners, multi-beam echo sounder, sub-bottom propeller to locate the vessel.
Meanwhile, rescuers announced that they recovered a passenger named Sarwar alive near a char of Padma around 2:00pm yesterday. Different private television channels also broadcast the news which turned out to be a hoax.
Sarwar was taken to the information centre at Mawa first and then to Mawa police outpost.
Maniruzzaman Fakir, assistant superintended of police of Munshiganj, said, "He [Sarwar] said that someone with a camera promised him money to say that he was rescued."
[Farhana Mirza from Munshiganj and Nityananda Halder from Madaripur also contributed to this report]