Timeline: How India’s bridge collapse tragedy that killed 135 unfolded

Hundreds of people in India were standing on an old, narrow British-era suspension bridge when it collapsed under the weight of the energetic crowd that had flocked to see the result of recent renovations.

Around 135 people died in the bridge collapse that occured in Gujarat state’s Morbi town, according to the official death toll – reduced from the earlier 141 deaths – in one of India’s worst public safety tragedies in recent years.

As angered and bereaved families continue to look for missing loved ones while others mourn the dead, questions have been raised about how the narrow pedestrian bridge collapsed and the role of the company that renovated it.

Suspension bridge ‘Julto Pul’ built in 1879

The suspension bridge, known as “Julto Pul”, which translates to hanging bridge, was inaugurated in 1879 during the British rule and under the reign of Sir Waghji Ravaji of Morbi town.

It is a 233m long and 1.25m-wide bridge and was built by Mumbai-based engineering company Richardson and Cruddas.

When it was inaugurated, only 15 people were allowed to use it at any one time because its narrow structure meant it swayed under any greater weight.

For decades, the bridge remained a popular tourist attraction in the riverside town, the planning of which was followed by the country’s first art deco palace and a European-style central square known as Green Chowk, with cobblestone streets that showed the architectural legacy left behind from colonial rule.

According to the Morbi district’s tourism website, the bridge was a tourist attraction and hailed as a “magnificent engineering marvel”.

Damaged in 2001 earthquake

The bridge suffered “extensive damage” in the powerful earthquake that shook Gujarat on 26 January 2001. The 7.7-magnitude quake, whose epicentre was in Gujarat’s Bhuj, killed an estimated 20,000 people and injured more than 150,000 others in north-western India.

The quake flattened houses and buildings in over 8,000 villages, where to this day many families are still recovering from the economic and personal damages caused.

Change of management and shutdown – March/April 2022

The Oreva group, the firm contracted to maintain and operate the bridge, was involved with the bridge from 2008, but was given almost exclusive responsibility for it in a new agreement signed on 7 March this year, reported the Indian Express.

The agreement was signed by Ajanta Manufacturing Pvt Ltd, Oreva’s flagship company, and handed over responsibility for the overall management of the brige, including maintenance, security, ticketing, cleaning and staff deployment, for a period of 15 years.

Oreva, a Morbi-based company, describes itself as the “world’s largest clock manufacturing company” and also makes lighting products, battery operated bikes, home appliances and TV sets.

The bridge was then closed for repairs and renovations in April.

Bridge re-inaugurated – 26 October 2022

The renovated 765ft-long bridge was inaugurated on 26 October.

At the reopening ceremony, just five days before the collapse, Oreva’s managing director told reporters that the bridge would not need any major work for “eight to 10 years” and added that people can enjoy “a carefree adventure”, reported NDTV.

“If people act responsibly without damaging the property, this renovation can sustain for the next 15 years,” MD Jaysukhbhai Patel said, adding that the entire renovation of the bridge was completed with a budget of just Rs 20m (£209,800).

Collapse of the bridge – 30 October 2022

On Sunday, hundreds of people gathered at the site and sightseers celebrating the Diwali and Chhath festivals packed the narrow bridge.

What was supported to be a celebration during India’s festive season turned out to be a nightmare for families.

CCTV footage at 6.31pm showed some people taking selfies on the packed bridge while others were seen shaking the bridge just before it collapsed. The graphic video showed dozens of people plummeting into the river along with the bridge.

The collapsed Julto Pul, a pedestrian suspension bridge, during a rescue operation in Morbi (EPA)
The collapsed Julto Pul, a pedestrian suspension bridge, during a rescue operation in Morbi (EPA)

Police, fire tenders and members of the public rushed to the spot to help the victims.

Another video in the aftermath of the collapse showed people hanging from one side of the bridge as they waited for help.

Authorities say the toll of those who died in the accident is 135, and a criminal case has been filed against as-yet unnamed people responsible for the renovation, maintenance and management of the bridge.

On Monday, police arrested nine people, including managers of Oreva group.

Those arrested are being investigated for culpable homicide among other serious violations, senior police officer Ashok Kumar Yadav said in a statement.

Modi visits Morbi – 1 November 2022

As search operations for missing people entered their third day, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi reached Morbi via helicopter to take stock of the situation. The tragedy occured just months before important elections are due in Gujarat, which is also Mr Modi’s home state.

Flanked by the state’s chief minister Bhupendra Patel and other local political leaders, Mr Modi met the injured at Morbi Civil Hospital.

Mr Modi visits the site of a suspension bridge collapse in Morbi town in the western state of Gujarat (REUTERS)
Mr Modi visits the site of a suspension bridge collapse in Morbi town in the western state of Gujarat (REUTERS)

He visited the site of the accident and met the family members of the victims as well as the rescue and relief operations teams.

Mr Modi, already on a three-day tour for the elections, also chaired a high-level meeting in the state capital Gandhinagar in the morning, where he reviewed the ongoing investigation into the tragedy and rescue and relief efforts.

Following the meeting, a state-wide day of mourning was announced for the victims on 2 November.