Suspension bridge collapse kills at least 132 in India

MORBI, India (AP) — Military teams searched for missing people on Monday after a century-old cable-stayed suspension bridge collapsed into a river on Sunday in the western Indian state of Gujarat, sending hundreds plunging in the water and killing at least 132 in one of the country’s worst accidents in the past decade.

At least 177 survivors were pulled from the river and army, navy and air force teams were searching for others still missing, said Jigar Khunt, an official with Gujarat’s information department. .

Live video reports showed hundreds more clinging desperately to the shattered structure and trying to fight their way to safety, as crowds on the ground shouted or swam in an attempt to rescue those who had fallen.

Authorities said the 19th-century colonial-era pedestrian bridge over the Machchu River in the state’s Morbi district collapsed because it could not support the weight of the large crowd, as the Hindu festival season drew hundreds of tourists to the recently opened tourist attraction. Security footage from the disaster showed the suspension bridge shaking violently and people trying to cling to its cables and green-colored metal nets before the footbridge gave way and crashed into the river.

The 232-metre (761ft) long bridge had been closed for repairs for almost six months and reopened just four days earlier for the Gujarati New Year.

Footage from the disaster site showed the bridge split in the middle and the metal causeway hanging down, its wire cables broken in places.

State Minister Harsh Sanghvi told reporters that 132 people had been confirmed dead and many had been admitted to hospitals in critical condition. Sanghvi said paramedics and rescuers worked through the night to search for survivors. Most of the victims were teenagers, women and the elderly, he said.

It was not known exactly how many people were on the bridge when it collapsed, but survivors said it was so dense that the crowd could not get to safety when the cables started to break.

“There were too many people on deck. We could barely move,” said Sidik Bai, 27, as he recovered from his injuries in a hospital bed in Morbi.

Sidik said he jumped into the water when the bridge started to crack and saw his friend being crushed by its metal pavement. He survived the disaster by climbing onto the bridge and hanging on to his cables, but his friend couldn’t.

“Everyone was screaming for help, but one by one they all started to disappear into the water,” Sidik said.

Local news channels aired photos of the missing shared by worried relatives looking for their loved ones. Many family members rushed to overcrowded hospitals in search of their loved ones.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was in his home state of Gujarat for a three-day visit, said he was “deeply saddened by the tragedy”. His office announced compensation to the families of the dead and called for swift rescue efforts.

“Rarely in my life would I have felt such pain,” Modi said at a public event in the state on Monday.

Modi ruled Gujarat as a senior elected official for 12 years before becoming Indian Prime Minister in 2014.

A Gujarat state government election is due in the coming months and opposition parties have demanded an investigation into the collapse, saying the bridge was reopened without security clearance. The claim could not be independently verified, but the state government said it had formed a special team to investigate the disaster.

Officials from the state’s civic body told local media that the bridge – built by the British in late 1880s during the Victorian era and touted by the Gujarat government as an “engineering marvel” – could have been opened by the private company that runs it without a “certificate of fitness.”

India’s infrastructure has long been marred by security issues, sometimes leading to major disasters on its highways and bridges.

The bridge collapse is the third major disaster in Asia involving large crowds in a month.

Saturday, a Halloween crowd surge killed more than 150 people, mostly young people who attended festivities in Itaewon, a neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea. On October 1, the Indonesian police fired tear gas at a soccer game, causing a crush that killed 132 people as onlookers tried to flee.


Saaliq and Pathi reported from New Delhi.

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