Indian police file homicide charges over Morbi bridge collapse that killed 134 people


NEW DELHI – Indian officials on Monday filed homicide charges against the operators of a suspension bridge and opened an investigation after at least 134 people were killed when the bridge collapsed, sending tourists falling in the Machchhu River in the western state of Gujarat.

In addition to the dead, a number of people are still missing as of midday Monday, Ashok Yadav, a Gujarat police official, told The Washington Post. Some media, citing anonymous officials, reported the death toll could be higher, exceeding 140. The crash happened in Morbi, a riverside town known for its bridge and Victorian old town, and happened amid a stampede towards the holidays: tourists celebrated Diwali as well as the Gujarati New Year, which this year fell on October 26.

Pedestrian bridge collapses into river in India, killing at least 132 people

Videos from the scene showed a crowd clicking smartphone photos from the crowded bridge on Sunday night when it started to sway and suddenly gave way. Some officials estimated that 400 people were crammed onto the bridge when the suspension cables snapped and the 760ft span collapsed.

Men, women and children were seen clinging to the broken deck above the waterline. Some crawled along its crumpled railings to the shore; others were lost in the water. The Indian Army has deployed army units and navy divers to assist in the rescue efforts.

As salvage operations continued on Monday, scrutiny turned to the company responsible for renovating and operating the bridge. The contractor, Oreva, a large manufacturer known for producing clocks and electric bikes, completed a six-month renovation of the bridge on Friday just in time for the Gujarati New Year. It reopened to tourists without first getting permission from the government, city official Sandeepsinh Zala told the Indian Express.

Zala also criticized the operators of the bridge for allowing tourists to access it without controlling the flow of people.

Local police have so far detained eight people for questioning, said a Morbi police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In their initial legal complaint, local police did not name Oreva or any other company, but said they would bring culpable homicide charges against “the agency responsible for maintaining the bridge” and “the management agency”. A charge of culpable homicide is not murder and is similar to manslaughter in the US legal system.

A spokesperson for Oreva said it appeared “the bridge collapsed because too many people in the middle section of the bridge were trying to tip it back and forth,” according to the Indian Express.

It is unclear why the company, which specializes in making wall clocks, electric bicycles and ceramic products, was contracted to operate the bridge. The company could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The bridge, highlighted on Gujarat’s official tourism website, is nearly a century old and remains popular with tourists. It was built by a Gujarati prince who was fascinated with construction. Waghji Thakor built railroads, ports, temples, and the bridge, which was to be a technological showcase connecting two of his palaces.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy and said that he had sought “urgent mobilization” rescue teams to the disaster area, which was mainly populated by women and children shortly before the tragedy. He was due to visit the site on Tuesday.

Bhupendra Patel, Chief Minister of Gujarat, shared video footage on social media of people pulled from the river by rescue teams using boats and flotation devices.

Hassan in London and Mahesh Langa in Ahmedabad contributed to this report.

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