At least 132 people died in India when a colonial-era pedestrian bridge overloaded with religious revelers collapsed into the river below, police said Monday. Authorities said nearly 500 people were celebrating a festival on and around the nearly 150-year-old suspension bridge in Morbi when supporting cables snapped after dark on Sunday.
The structure in the western state of Gujarat crashed into the river, spilling scores of people into the water while others clung desperately to the wreckage shouting for help. "I saw the bridge collapse before my eyes," one witness who worked all night trying to rescue people said, without giving his name.
"It was traumatic when a woman showed me a photo of her daughter and asked if I had rescued her. I could not tell her that her daughter had died." Another witness named Supran told local media that the bridge was "jam-packed".
"The cables snapped and the bridge came down in a split second. People fell on each other and into the river," he said. Ranjanbhai Patel, another Morbi resident, told local media of the difficulties he and other faced in their bid to help people to shore. "We pulled out people who were able to swim ashore.
As most of the people had fallen into the river, we were not able to save them," he said. Senior police official Ashok Kumar Yadav told AFP on Monday morning that the death toll now stood at 132. Sources said that most of the victims were women and children. Around 15 others were being treated in the hospital. The bridge over the Machchhu river, a popular tourist spot, had only reopened several days earlier after months of repairs.
News reports showed footage of people clambering up the twisted remains of the bridge or trying to swim to safety in the dark. P. Dekavadiya, the head of police in Morbi, earlier told AFP by phone that more that 130 people had been rescued.
The suspension bridge, 233 metres (764 feet) long and 1.5 metres wide, was inaugurated in 1880 by the British colonial authorities and made with materials shipped from England, reports said. Broadcaster NDTV reported that it reopened on Wednesday after seven months of repairs despite not having a safety certificate and that video footage from Saturday showed it swaying wildly. District police have launched an enquiry against the contractor, Yadav said.
The state has set up a five-member team to probe the tragedy. Authorities quickly launched a rescue operation following the collapse, with boats and divers deployed to search for missing people. Dozens of soldiers and sailors from the Indian Army and Navy were also called in for the rescue operation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was touring his home state of Gujarat at the time, announced compensation for those killed and injured in the accident.
The Gujarat government on its website describes the bridge some 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of the state's main city, Ahmedabad, as "an engineering marvel". Accidents from old and poorly maintained infrastructure including bridges are common in India. In 2016 the collapse of a flyover onto a busy street in the eastern city of Kolkata killed at least 26 people. In 2011 at least 32 people were killed when a bridge packed with festival crowds collapsed near the hill town of Darjeeling in India's northeast. Less than a week later around 30 people were killed when a footbridge over a river in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh collapsed.