Morbi: At least 68 people, many of them women and children, died after a century-old suspension bridge on Machchhu river in Gujarat’s Morbi city collapsed on Sunday evening, officials said.
The bridge, which reopened four days ago after extensive repairs and renovation, was crammed with people when it collapsed around 6.30 pm, officials said.
“At least 68 persons have died in the tragedy,” Gujarat Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghavi told reporters at Morbi, around 300 km from the state capital. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll at over 80.
Eyewitnesses said there were several women and children on the British era “hanging bridge” when it snapped, plunging them into the water below.
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Some people were seen jumping on the bridge and pulling its big wires, an eyewitness said. The bridge may have collapsed due to the “huge crowd” on it, he added.
People fell over each other when the bridge collapsed, he said.
“I had come to the riverbank along with friends after my office hours when we heard the sound of the bridge snapping. We rushed there and jumped into the water to save people,” an eyewitness said.
“We rescued some children and women,” he said.
A man who was injured in the incident, said the collapse was sudden and may have been due to too many people on the bridge.
After the collapse, all that remained of the bridge was part of the metal carriageway hanging down from one end into the dark water, its thick cables snapped in places.
At the local hospital people formed a human chain to hold back crowds and keep the road clear for ambulances which brought those rescued.
Sanghavi said a five-member high-powered committee has been formed to probe the bridge collapse. It includes Roads and Buildings department secretary Sandeep Vasava and four other senior officers.
An FIR was lodged in the bridge collapse under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (intentional act causing death) and 114 (abettor present when offence committed), against whoever is found responsible, Sanghavi said.
For Ahmedabad resident Vijay Goswami and his family members, it was a close shave as they had visited the bridge on Sunday afternoon but returned halfway out of fear after some youth from the crowd started shaking it.
Goswami said when he and his family were on the bridge, some youth started shaking the bridge intentionally, making it difficult for people to walk. He said since he felt this act could prove dangerous, he and family returned without proceeding further on the bridge. He said he even alerted the bridge staff about it, but they were indifferent.
Due to the Diwali vacation and being a Sunday, there was a rush of tourists on the bridge, a major tourist attraction.
A private operator had carried out the repair work of the bridge for nearly six months before it was reopened to the public on the Gujarati New Year Day on October 26.
It was opened to the public after the completion of the renovation work. But the local municipality had not yet issued any fitness certificate (after the renovation work), an official said.
A fire department official said that boats were being used to rescue people from the river.
”We are carrying out rescue work using boats. There are around 40-50 people in the river,” the official said.
Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel reached the accident site late in the night and also met those injured at the civil hospital.
An isolation ward has also been set up in the civil hospital for treatment of those injured in the bridge collapse, the Chief Minister’s Office said.
The state government has announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
The National Disaster Response Force rushed three teams to Morbi district.
An army team including doctors and paramedical staff has reached the accident site, while the navy has sent a team of more than 40 personnel for rescue operations, an official said.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a tweet that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently in Gujarat, spoke to Patel and officials.
Modi sought urgent mobilisation of rescue teams and asked that the situation be closely and continuously monitored, and all possible help be extended to those affected.
President Droupadi Murmu and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar expressed grief over the bridge collapse and prayed for the safe rescue of others.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said he was deeply saddened by the bridge collapse and appealed to party workers in the state to extend every possible assistance in rescue work.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi also said the news of the bridge collapse accident was very saddening and appealed to all Congress workers to extend all possible help to the injured.
CPI leader Binoy Viswam hit out at the BJP over the bridge collapse, claiming that it points to the ”gross negligence” of the state government.
Following the accident, Modi has cancelled his road show, scheduled to be held in Ahmedabad Monday ahead of the state Assembly polls, BJP sources said.
A ”page committee sammelan”, scheduled to be held on Tuesday in Modi’s virtual presence, has been put off, they added.