Nineteen bathers have drowned and four are missing in rough seas off Pakistan's biggest city Karachi, officials said on Thursday, after defying a ban on swimming during the monsoon season.
The bathers were among thousands who had taken to the beaches to celebrate the Eid holiday, which began on Tuesday and continues until Friday.
Even as relatives gathered at the beach for news of loved ones, hundreds more families continued to arrive on Thursday and demanded that police let them swim, despite the deaths.
Senior police officer Ibadat Nisar said police discovered three bodies washed up at the upscale Clifton beach on Wednesday evening, which prompted a wider search operation that was suspended overnight but resumed on Thursday.
“We started talking to picnickers on the beach and realised that the number of people who drowned was much higher than we thought, people whom we talked to told us about their friends or relatives who had gone missing while swimming,” he said.
Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, the city's top administrator confirmed the incident to AFP, adding: “Nineteen bodies have been pulled out of the sea while the search for four more people continues.”
Several ambulances were seen gathered on the beach where the relatives of some of the missing were gathered at Clifton beach, anxiously awaiting word of their loved ones.
Faiz Rehman, 32, said he and his younger brother had came to the beach on Wednesday to go for a swim along with two friends - who were now missing.
He said: “As we were swimming in the sea, I noticed the waves getting bigger and more rough, and I got scared and started swimming back.
“I also called my brother and friends to swim back to the shore. My brother returned but my two friends were still swimming as the waves got bigger I lost sight of them.
“I waited for around three hours but they didn't return.”
Administrator Siddiqui added that a search operation had been launched with the help of Navy divers and a helicopter, as well as civil authorities.
Despite the deaths, hundreds of families including women and children continued to arrive at the Clifton beach on Thursday, as some clashed with police and demanding to be allowed to swim.
“We are still searching for dead bodies and these people can see the dead bodies with their eyes but they are still fighting with us to allow them to swim in the sea,” Fahad Ali, a police official deployed at the beach told AFP.
“These people have came with their family members, there are women and children and you can see kids as young as six and their parents are fighting with us to allow them to swim in the sea,” he said.
“This is the height of stupidity,” he added.
Nisar, the senior police officer, told AFP the government had imposed a ban on swimming in the sea before the start of the monsoon season in June.
Karachi, a teeming city of 20 million people, is Pakistan's economic hub and is regularly wracked by political and ethnic violence. - Sapa-AFP