More than 120 killed in India as packed suspension bridge collapses
AHMEDABAD - At least 120 people died when a bridge in India collapsed, a police officer said on Monday, raising the death toll from 81.
“We have recovered 120 bodies so far. The toll is likely going to increase as the search operation continues,” said Mr P. Dekavadiya, the head of police in the western city of Morbi, where the incident occurred on Sunday.
Indian media reported that children were among those killed.
Dozens of people were also injured, officials said.
More than 400 people were on and around the colonial-era suspension bridge at the time of the collapse. State Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi said more than 150 people were on the bridge over the Machhu River in the town of Morbi at the time of the collapse.
Indian news agency Press Trust of India, quoting unnamed officials, said the bridge collapsed as it could not bear the weight of the people standing on it.
Footage broadcast by the TV channel showed dozens of people clinging onto the cables of the collapsed bridge as emergency teams struggled to rescue them.
Some clambered up the broken structure to try to make their way to the river banks, while others swam to safety. A number of children were among the victims.
Mr Prateek Vasava, who swam to the river bank after falling from the bridge, told 24 Hours Gujarati-language news channel that he witnessed several children drop into the river.
“I wanted to pull some of them along with me but they had drowned or got swept away,” he said.
The bridge had collapsed in just a few seconds, he said.
Broadcaster NDTV reported that people also swam to safety, with parts of the bridge partially submerged in the river.
“Many people came here in view of Diwali holidays and weekend; it’s a tourist-friendly place. When it collapsed, people fell over each other,” an eyewitness told ANI.
The 230m-long historic bridge was built during British rule in the 19th century. It had been closed for renovation for six months and was reopened to the public last week.
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.
Fifty navy and 30 air force personnel were called in to help along with a national disaster management team to trace missing people, the government said in a statement. 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.
President Droupadi Murmu tweeted: “The tragedy in Morbi, Gujarat, has left me worried. My thoughts and prayers are with the affected people. Relief and rescue efforts will bring succour to the victims.”
Families of those killed will each get 600,000 rupees (S$10,300) as compensation from the state and federal governments. - REUTERS