At least 133 dead in collapse of Indian bridge built under British rule
Tourists and locals plunged into the Machchu river as the bridge collapsed at Morbi, in Gujarat province. Around 300 people were believed to be on the bridge at the time of the disaster – as part of ritual celebrations of Hindu festival Chhath puja – as the company tasked with maintaining the structure claimed that visitors had been trying to make the bridge sway when it collapsed.
It is believed that dozens more people are still unaccounted for.
The 245-metre bridge, which was built from materials imported from the UK and inaugurated by Sir Richard Temple, governor of Mumbai, in 1879, had recently undergone extensive renovations and only reopened four days earlier after a two year closure. Known as Julto Pool (shaking bridge), the structure across Machhu river dividing Morbi town into two had been badly damaged in an earthquake in 2001.
Videos taken by eyewitnesses showed people climbing down sections of the bridge, which had fallen into the river. Many children were understood to be on the bridge at the time.
State minister Harsh Sanghvi said 132 people had died so far and many were admitted to hospitals in critical condition.
Mr Sanghvi said emergency responders and rescuers worked overnight to search for the survivors and those killed and injured were mostly teens, women and older people. Teams from the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force were also dispatched to help with the rescue.
President Droupadi Murmu said: “The tragedy in Morbi, Gujarat has left me worried. My thoughts and prayers are with the affected people. Relief and rescue efforts will bring succour to the victims.”
The incident has sparked a row between Morbi municipality, which owns the bridge and Oreva Group, which had been contracted to handle its maintenance and operations a few months ago.
“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,” a spokesperson for the Oreva Group said.
The firm had opened the bridge to the public on Gujarati New Year day on October 26, after repairing it. However, the municipality said it had not been notified about the opening.
“The bridge is a property of the Morbi municipality but we had handed it over to Oreva Group a few months ago for maintenance and operations for 15 years. However, the private firm threw the bridge open to visitors without notifying us and therefore, we couldn’t get a safety audit of the bridge conducted,” said Sandeepsinh Zala, chief officer of Morbi municipality.
He told local media that a “fitness certificate” had not been granted for the bridge since the renovations were completed.
Compensation has already been announced by Indian authorities for victims of the disaster. Gujarat leader Bhupendra Patel said Rs 4 lakh (£4,000) would be paid to the families of the deceased, and Rs 50,000 to the injured.
"Renovation happened last week. We are also shocked. We are looking into the matter. The government takes responsibility for this tragedy," Brijesh Merja, Gujarat's minister for Labour and Employment told Indian television.
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