(Reuters) - The cheer of Branson, Missouri, a Midwestern tourist destination known for bucolic scenery, country music and family-friendly attractions like a toy museum, turned sombre Friday after at least 13 people died when the “duck boat” they were riding in sank.
“This is a really tough situation and it’s gut-wrenching,” city spokeswoman Melody Pettit told a brief news conference outside the community’s city hall. “But we are doing our best to try to help.”
High winds appear to have swamped the boat, which carried 31 people, causing it to capsize on nearby Table Rock Lake, according to officials and video of the incident.
Branson, in southwest Missouri, draws some 7.2 million visitors a year, according to city tourism officials. The area features dozens of amusement and water parks, musical shows and attractions like Dolly Parton’s Stampede, the World’s Largest Toy Museum and the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai.
“So sad that this has happened where I have so many happy memories,” tweeted Texan Miguel Jauregui, who lived in the area as a child.
“Prayers for our friends in Branson,” Lu Ann Stoia, a television reporter, said on Twitter. “Many happy memories in Table Rock Lake with our family.”
Table Rock Lake is a 67-square-mile (174 sq km) reservoir containing water impounded by the Table Rock Dam on the White River.
Duck amphibious vehicles, inspired by the watercraft used in the D-Day landing in World War Two, are a popular attraction for families in the Branson area.
Even visitors who avoid the boats regularly hear the sounds of children quacking with duck noise makers that are given to them after they take a trip on one of the boats, said Andrea Nourse, a writer in Tennessee who grew up in the area.
“I saw these packed full of families every single day,” Nourse said of the boats. “This is a tragedy, so incredibly sad.”
Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky