At least 134 people were killed in Gujarat, India on Sunday (October 30) when a suspension bridge collapsed ‘in a few seconds’ after it was packed with sightseers - a week after it was reopened to the public. Reuters reported that officials fear the number could grow as authorities opened a criminal case deemed to be one of the ‘deadliest accidents’ in the country in the past 10 years.
Sightseers, who were enjoying holiday festivities following Diwali, crowded the colonial-era footbridge over the Machhu River in the centre of Morbi town when it suddenly collapsed, plunging people about 33 feet (10 metres) into the river below. It was reported dozens of people were clinging onto cables and twisted remains of the bridge as emergency teams struggled to rescue them.
Some climbed the broken structure in an attempt to reach the river banks, while others swam to safety. Among the victims were several children. Prateek Vasava, who swam to the river’s edge after falling from the bridge, told Gujarati-language news channel that he saw several children fall into the river. He said: "I wanted to pull some of them along with me but they had drowned or got swept away," he said, adding that the bridge had collapsed in just a few seconds.
According to officials, dozens of people were also injured. Authorities investigating the incident also said more than 400 people were on and around the bridge at the time of the collapse. Meanwhile, more than 150 people were on the bridge itself, said State Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi.
A witness, who gave his name as Sukram said: “Many children were enjoying holidays for Diwali and they came here as tourists. All of them fell one on top of another. The bridge collapsed due to overloading.” The 230-metre bridge was built during British rule in the 19th century. It had been closed for renovation for six months and was reopened for the public last week.
Complete technical assessment lacking
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had instructed the state chief minister to urgently mobilise teams for the rescue operation while he is on a three-day visit to his home state of Gujarat. According to a statement from the government, a national disaster management team and 50 navy and 30 air force personnel were requested to assist in locating missing people. A five-person team was selected to look into the catastrophe.
The leaders of the opposition parties have since accused the government of not carrying out a complete technical assessment and load bearing capacity of the suspension bridge before it was opened to the public. Morbi is well-known for being a ceramic manufacturing hub.