Death toll jumps to 141 after suspension bridge collapses in India

At least 141 have died and dozens are injured after a century-old suspension bridge collapsed in India in one of the deadliest accidents in the country in the past 10 years, sparking shock and horror.

The 230m-long bridge in the western state of Gujarat had been closed for six months and reopened just last week. It was built during British colonial rule in the 1800s.

The overcrowded bridge collapsed on Sunday evening, plunging scores of people into a river below and leaving others clinging to what remained of the structure.

One broadcaster reported that more than 400 people were on the bridge when it collapsed, however authorities gave that as the number of people in the vicinity of the structure, with state home minister Harsh Sanghavi stating that more than 150 people had been on the bridge itself.

About 35 victims were aged younger than 14, according to a list of the deceased seen by Reuters. More than 170 people had been rescued so far as a search operation to find the remaining bodies continues on Monday.

Those killed and injured were mostly teenagers, women and older people, state minister Brijesh Merja said.

Teams from the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force were also dispatched to help with the rescue, while local news channels ran pictures of those missing, shared by concerned relatives in search of their loved ones.

Authorities said that the river’s muddy waters were hampering rescue work and that there might be people trapped under the mangled remains of the bridge.

On Monday, a criminal case was registered against unnamed persons responsible for the renovation, maintenance and management of the bridge.

The state government has formed a five-member team to investigate the disaster.

Sandeepsinh Zala, the chief officer of Morbi municipality, said Gujarat-based electrical appliances maker Oreva group, known for its Ajanta clocks, had been in charge of maintaining the bridge for 15 years.

“They did not give us any information that they were reopening the bridge,” Mr Zala said. “We have not issued any fitness certificate to them.”

Oreva’s spokesperson told the Indian Express: “While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other.”

The bridge, known locally as Jhulta Pool, is situated in the centre of the town of Morbi and is described as a major tourist attraction. It had reportedly drawn many sightseers celebrating the Diwali and Chhath Puja holidays.

Officials told the Press Trust of India news agency that it gave way as it could not support the number of people on it. Opposition party leaders alleged the government had not conducted a thorough technical assessment and load bearing capacity before it was opened to the public.

The bridge had reopened just last week following months of renovations (Reuters/Stringer)
The bridge had reopened just last week following months of renovations (Reuters/Stringer)

Officials said the victims were mostly local people who were visiting the bridge for recreational purposes. Following its collapse, footage showed people clinging on to what was left of the structure. Some clambered up cables in a bid to reach the river bank, while others swam to safety.

CCTV footage showed people deliberately swaying the bridge moments before it collapsed.

Prateek Vasava, who swam to the river bank after falling from the bridge, told Gujarati-language broadcaster 24 Hours that he witnessed several children drop into the river, after the bridge collapsed in just a few seconds.

“I wanted to pull some of them along with me but they had drowned or got swept away,” he said.

Morbi is home to one of the largest ceramic manufacturing clusters in the world, which accounts for more than 80 per cent of India’s ceramic output.

Prime minister Narendra Modi, who is in his home state of Gujarat for a three-day visit, said he had directed the state’s chief minister to mobilise teams urgently for the rescue operation, and pledged compensation for the families of the deceased.

Mr Modi will visit the village on Tuesday.

The incident comes ahead of elections in Gujarat that are expected to be held this year, with the current term of Mr Modi’s ruling party ending in February. Mr Modi ruled the state as the top elected official for 12 years before becoming India’s prime minister in 2014.

Additional reporting by agencies