Police arrest nine over Indian bridge collapse, toll reaches 134
- Footbridge was built in 1877
- About 400 people were on or around the bridge when it collapsed
- Bridge reopened last week after repairs
- The police arrested nine people after the investigation began
MORBI, India, October 31 (Reuters) – Indian police on Monday arrested nine people, including ticket sellers and contractors, as they investigate a footbridge collapse that has killed at least 134 people, including many children.
CCTV footage from just before the collapse showed a group of young men taking photos while others tried to swing the suspension bridge from side to side in the Morbi before plunging into the river below as the cables gave way.
The colonial-era bridge over the Machchhu River was packed with tourists enjoying the holiday celebrations when it broke on Sunday night, throwing people about 10 meters (33 feet) into the water.
Ashwin Mehra, who was being treated for leg and back injuries, said he and six others reached the bank by holding on to the bridge’s metal railings and netting.
“There were about 15 to 20 boys between the ages of 20 and 25 shaking the bridge,” he told Reuters TV partner ANI. “… We heard noises three times, and the sixth time the cable (of the bridge) suddenly snapped.”
A senior police official said nine people were arrested, including executives, ticket sellers and three security guards, for failing to regulate the crowds before the bridge collapsed.
Among those arrested are two people believed to have been contacted to repair the building, originally built in 1877, Ashok Kumar Yadav said. He said more arrests are likely to come.
Shock and sorrow at the tragedy mingled with anger from some of the families of those killed and from members of the opposition in the western state of Gujarat, where elections are due early next year.
“Not only very sad about the collapse of the bridge in Morbi, but also very angry. Because it was a tragedy waiting,” Congress Party member Gurdeep Singh Sappal wrote on Twitter.
“Bridge collapses, road collapses, dam collapses have been happening quite frequently for some time now.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is from the state where the disaster struck, is scheduled to visit the small industrial town on Tuesday, a lawmaker said.
Local officials told Reuters that Oreva, a watchmaking and electrical equipment company responsible for the bridge, had not informed authorities it would reopen after repairs last week, adding that it did not have a certificate about suitability for public use have been issued.
An Oreva spokesman did not return calls and texts from Reuters.
The Indian Express newspaper quoted an Oreva spokesman as saying: “While we await further information, the bridge collapsed prima facie because too many people in the central section of the bridge were trying to move it from one direction to the other. “
“Hour of Sorrow”
About 400 people had bought tickets to get onto the bridge to celebrate the festivals of Diwali and Chhath Puja.
About 35 victims were under the age of 14, according to a list of the deceased seen by Reuters. By morning, about 170 people had been rescued.
“People were hanging on the bridge after the accident, but they slipped and fell into the river as it collapsed,” said Raju, a witness who gave only one name. “I couldn’t sleep all night because I helped with the rescue operation. I have taken many children to the hospital.”
Narendrasinh Jadeja whose friend lost seven members of his familyincluding four children, said: “I cannot express how angry and helpless I feel.”
Senior government official NK Muchhar said the death toll had risen to 134. Another official at the scene said the river’s muddy waters were hampering rescue efforts and that people may have been trapped under the remains of the bridge.
Oreva, a Gujarat-based company, has been in charge of maintaining the bridge for 15 years, said Morbi municipality chief officer Sandeepsinh Zala.
“They haven’t given us any information that they’re reopening the bridge,” Zala said. “We didn’t issue them a medical certificate.”
Jayrajsinh Jadeja, a local lawmaker from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, accused Oreva of selling tickets without restrictions and said overcrowding led to the bridge collapse.
The bridge was previously maintained by the local municipality, which limited the number of people on the bridge to 20 at a time, he said.
Modi, the former prime minister of Gujarat, offered his condolences to the families of the victims.
“In this hour of grief, the government is with the bereaved in every way,” he said at an event in Gujarat.
The bridge is 1.25 meters (4 feet) wide and spans 233 meters (255 yards) and linked the Darbargadh Palace Heritage Hotel and the city.
writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Edited by Kim Coghill, Gerry Doyle, Edmund Klamann and Alison Williams
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