Lake Malawi boat disaster: 'Man held on to bag of flour'

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A man leads his traditional boat to shore, at the Saga on Lake Malawi, on July 17, 2011Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Lake Malawi is one of the biggest lakes in Africa

A 67-year-old man has said he escaped death by clinging to a bag of maize flour after the boat he was on capsized on Lake Malawi.

Graciam Kondowe was among 54 passengers who police say survived after the boat overturned in stormy weather on Sunday.

Five people drowned while 11 are still missing, police said.

The boat was packed with worshippers returning from Easter celebrations when it capsized in the remote Rumphi district in northern Malawi.

Mr Kondowe told Malawi's privately owned Zodiac radio station that heavy winds buffeted the boat about 15 minutes into their journey.

The crew decided to return to shore, but the boat capsized before they could get back, he added.

Mr Kondowe said he held on to a bag of maize flour which fell out of the boat, and eventually swam his way to safety.

Eight of the 54 survivors are being treated in hospital after sustaining injuries, police officer Denis Banda said.

Locals residents used canoes to rescue most of the passengers, Malawian journalist Joab Chakhaza told the BBC.

Search operations are continuing for the 11 people still missing, but the chances of finding them alive are slim, he adds.

Boats are a common mode of transport on the vast Lake Malawi, and accidents of this magnitude are rare.

In 2012, 47 migrants fleeing drought and conflict in Somalia and Ethiopia drowned in the lake after their boat capsized.