More than 132 killed in India as packed suspension bridge collapses

There were more than 400 people on the bridge at the time. PHOTO: SCREENGRABS FROM SANTHOSH4JSP/TWITTER
At least 60 people were killed and dozens critically injured when a suspension bridge in India’s western Gujarat state collapsed on Sunday, a government official said. PHOTO: DK SHIVAKUMAR
At least 60 people were killed and dozens critically injured when a suspension bridge in India’s western Gujarat state collapsed on Sunday, a government official said. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM @KAUSHIKDD/TWITTER

AHMEDABAD - At least 132 people died in India when a colonial-era pedestrian bridge overloaded with religious revellers collapsed into the river below, police said on Monday.

Authorities said nearly 500 people were celebrating a festival on and around the nearly 150-year-old suspension bridge in Morbi when supporting cables snapped after dark on Sunday.

The structure in the western state of Gujarat crashed into the river, spilling scores of people into the water while others clung desperately to the wreckage shouting for help.

“I saw the bridge collapse before my eyes,” one witness who worked all night trying to rescue people said, without giving his name.

“It was traumatic when a woman showed me a photo of her daughter and asked if I had rescued her. I could not tell her that her daughter had died.”

Another witness named Supran told local media that the bridge was “jam-packed”.

“The cables snapped and the bridge came down in a split second. People fell on each other and into the river,” he said.

Mr Ranjanbhai Patel, another Morbi resident, told local media of the difficulties he and other faced in their bid to help people to shore.

“We pulled out people who were able to swim ashore. As most of the people had fallen into the river, we were not able to save them,” he said.

Senior police official Ashok Kumar Yadav told AFP on Monday morning that the death toll now stood at 132. Sources said that most of the victims were women and children.

Around 15 others were being treated in hospital.

News reports showed footage of people clambering up the twisted remains of the bridge or trying to swim to safety in the dark.

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Mr P. Dekavadiya, the head of police in Morbi, earlier told AFP by phone that more than 130 people had been rescued.

The historic suspension bridge, 233m long and 1.5m wide, was built during British rule in the 19th century and made with materials shipped from England.

It had been closed for renovation for six months and was reopened to the public last week despite not having a safety certificate, reported broadcaster NDTV.

District police have launched an enquiry against the contractor, Yadav said. The state has set up a five-member team to probe the tragedy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in his home state Gujarat for a three-day visit, said he has directed the state chief minister to mobilise teams urgently for the rescue operation, Reuters reported.

Authorities quickly launched a rescue operation following the collapse, with boats and divers deployed to search for missing people.

Dozens of soldiers and sailors from the Indian Army and Navy were also called in for the rescue operation.

A five-member team was appointed to conduct an investigation into the disaster.

Opposition party leaders alleged that the government had not conducted a thorough technical assessment and load bearing capacity before it was opened to the public.

Morbi is renowned as ceramic manufacturing centre.

The incident also comes ahead of elections in Gujarat, which are expected to be held by the year’s end with the current term of Mr Modi’s ruling party’s term ending in February 2023. 

The Gujarat government on its website describes the bridge some 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of the state’s main city, Ahmedabad, as “an engineering marvel”.

Accidents from old and poorly maintained infrastructure including bridges are common in India.

In 2016 the collapse of a flyover onto a busy street in the eastern city of Kolkata killed at least 26 people.

In 2011 at least 32 people were killed when a bridge packed with festival crowds collapsed near the hill town of Darjeeling in India’s northeast.

Less than a week later around 30 people were killed when a footbridge over a river in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh collapsed. AFP, REUTERS

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