MORBI, India — Military teams were searching for missing people on Monday after a 143-year-old suspension bridge collapsed into a river in the Indian state of Gujarat on Sunday, sending hundreds plunging into the water and killing at least 133 people in the one of the country’s worst accidents in years. .
As families mourned the dead, attention turned to why the bridge, built by the British in the late 1800s and touted as an ‘engineering marvel’, had collapsed and who could to be responsible.
The local government had awarded a 15-year contract to maintain and manage the bridge to a Morbi-based company, Ajanta Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd., mainly known for manufacturing clocks, mosquito repellents and electric bicycles.
He reopened the bridge, which spans a wide section of the Machchu River, on October 26. It’s the first day of the Gujarati New Year, which coincides with the Hindu festival season, and the recently reopened attraction has drawn hundreds of tourists.
Sandeepsinh Zala, a Morbi town official, told the Indian Express newspaper that the company had reopened the bridge without first obtaining a “certificate of fitness”. This claim could not be independently verified, but the state government said it had formed a special team to investigate the incident.
Authorities said the structure collapsed under the weight of hundreds of people. Security footage from the disaster showed a bridge shaking violently and people trying to hold its cables and green-colored metal fencing down before the aluminum walkway gave way and crashed into the river.
Visuals of the disaster site showed the split bridge in the middle and the suspended metal walkway, its cables broken in places. 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 the service. Gujarat information.
State Minister Harsh Sanghvi told reporters that 133 people had been confirmed dead and many more had been admitted to hospitals in critical condition. Rescuers and paramedics worked through the night to search for survivors. Most of the victims were teenagers, women and the elderly, he said.
It was unclear how many people were on the bridge when it collapsed, but survivors said it was so dense that crowds were unable to quickly get to safety when its cable 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 walkway. He survived by clinging to the cables of the bridge, but his friend did not survive.
“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 and family members rushed to overcrowded hospitals in search of loved ones.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visiting his home state of Gujarat, said he was “deeply saddened by the tragedy”. His office announced compensation for 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 was Gujarat’s highest elected official for 12 years before becoming India’s prime minister in 2014. A Gujarat state government election is due in the coming months and opposition parties have demanded an inquiry into the collapse.
The bridge collapse is the third major disaster in Asia involving large crowds in a month.
On Saturday, a wave of Halloween crowds killed more than 150 people, mostly young people, who attended the festivities in Itaewon, a district of Seoul, South Korea. On October 1, Indonesian police fired tear gas at a football match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators tried to flee.
India’s infrastructure has long been blighted by security issues, and Mordi has suffered other major disasters. In 1979, a dam upstream on the Machchu River burst, sending walls of water into the city and killing hundreds in one of India’s biggest dam failures.
In 2001, thousands of people died in an earthquake in Gujarat. The town of Morbi, 150 km from the epicenter of the earthquake in Bhuj, suffered considerable damage. According to a report by the Times of India newspaper, the bridge that collapsed on Sunday was also badly damaged.
Aijaz Hussain, Saaliq and Pathi reported from New Delhi.