Tourist boat capsizes in Missouri killing 17

Two amphibious boats were on Table Rock Lake when a storm hit, officials say, one returned to shore safely.

    Divers were deployed to search for those still missing after the boat capsized on Thursday evening [Southern Stone County Fire Protection District/EPA]
    Divers were deployed to search for those still missing after the boat capsized on Thursday evening [Southern Stone County Fire Protection District/EPA]

    Seventeen people have died after a boat carrying tourists sank during stormy weather in the US state of Missouri, according to local police, making it one of the deadliest tourist incidents in the country in years.

    The vessel was carrying 31 people when it capsized on Thursday in Table Rock Lake, near the town of Branson, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told reporters late on Thursday. 

    Emergency crews responded to the incident shortly after 7pm (00:00 GMT), with divers deployed to assist, Rader said.

    On Friday, divers recovered the last four bodies from the sunket boat, which was 24m under water.

    Rader noted that the boat's captain survived the sinking but the driver did not.

    The National Transportation Safety Board and US Coast Guard are investigating the incident, officials said.

    The incident occurred around the time local weather warnings were issued due to powerful thunderstorms rolling through the area.

    Video footage captured from the lake's shore showed two amphibious vessels, known as duck boats for their ability to operate on land and water, struggling to move through waves.

    One of the boats made it safely to shore, according to Rader.

    Rick Kettels, owner of a local business on the shores of the lake, told AFP news agency the storm appeared out of nowhere. 

    "It just came up real quick," he said.

    "I've been here most of my life and I never saw a storm this bad."

    Local authorities opened Branson City Hall on Thursday evening to victims of the incident and relatives of those affected.

    "This is a very trying time for all those who are involved," the City of Branson said in a statement.

    "The City of Branson may be small in size but it is big at its heart."

    Branson, Missouri is a vacation destination popular for its theatres and country music. 

    The company Ripley Entertainment owns the capsized boat. 

    A spokeswoman for the company said in a statement that the company would "do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue". 

    Al Jazeera's Steff Gaulter on the severe weather over Branson:

    The winds on Table Rock Lake in Missouri picked up abruptly and dramatically as a thunderstorm rolled over the area.

    The storm was part of a larger batch of severe weather that battered many parts of the United States on Thursday, from Minnesota to Arkansas. At least 33 tornadoes were reported. The majority of those were in Iowa, with other locations also being battered by large hail and strong straight-line winds as well. In many instances, the storms arrived suddenly, with little or no warning.

    In Branson, which is just to the east of Table Rock Lake, the weather at 6:50pm was almost perfect for a pleasure boat ride, with gentle winds of just 9 kilometres per hour. However, just 20 minutes later, the winds were gusting to 86 km/h, and still increasing. By 7:30pm, winds of 102 km/h had been reported.

    The severe weather had been forecast, but the sudden increase of winds still caught locals unawares.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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