At least 23 people drowned and another 12 were missing when an overloaded boat capsized in the Ganga near Patna on Saturday evening.

The dead included men, women and children who had gone to a kite flying festival organised on the sandbar across the ghats. The boat, designed to carry 25 people, was carrying at least 50 people when it overturned at 5.45pm.

Seven people were rescued, most of them having ingested water while struggling to come to shore.

The administration had run a free ferry service to take people to festival site in the morning. But as it became colder in the evening, people flocked to whatever boats were available to return, eyewitnesses said.

“The boat was overloaded and it capsized when it started from the diara side (Sabalpur),” said Manju Devi of Ranipur, one of the survivors of the tragedy, undergoing treatment at PMCH.

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Reports said chief minister Nitish Kumar ordered an investigation into the accident and announced a payout of Rs 4 lakh for the victims’ families.

Members of the state disaster response force carried out search and rescue operations into the night as relatives of those who had gone to the festival crowded the NIT ghat, the closest point to the site where the boat flipped over.

The rescue operations would resume again on Sunday morning.

“The rescue operation has been stopped for the time being due to darkness. It will resume tomorrow morning,” Patna district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Aggarwal told reporters.

Some 75,000 people had attended the festival for the Makar Sankranti celebrations throughout Saturday.

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