Morbi, India — Nine people were arrested on Monday in connection with thein western India that killed nearly 140 people, police said. The nine people arrested – all associated with a company that maintained the Morbi Bridge – were being investigated for culpable homicide not constituting murder, senior police officer Ashok Kumar Yadav said in a statement.
The bridge, which had reopened days earlier after months of renovations, collapsed on Sunday night, sending hundreds into the river in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Authorities said nearly 500 people were celebrating the last day of the Diwali festival on and around the nearly 150-year-old suspension bridge when the supporting cables snapped.
CCTV footage showed the structure swaying – with a few people apparently deliberately shaking it – before it suddenly gave way.
The footbridge and a fence crashed into the Machchhu River, leaving the other side hanging in the air as people fell into the water in the darkness.
“I saw the bridge collapse before my eyes,” said a witness who worked all night for relief, without giving his name. “It was traumatic when a woman showed me a picture of her daughter and asked me if I had saved her. I couldn’t tell her her daughter was dead.”
Supran, another witness, said the bridge, which was a popular tourist attraction, was “full to bursting”.
“The cables snapped and the bridge collapsed in a split second. People fell on top of each other and into the river,” he told local media.
After the collapse, people clung to the twisted remains of the bridge or tried to swim to safety in the dark.
Many Indians cannot swim and another Morbi resident, Ranjanbhai Patel, said he helped remove those who were able to reach the shores.
“As most of the people had fallen into the river, we couldn’t save them,” he said.
Local police chief P. Dekavadiya said as of Monday afternoon, 137 people had been confirmed dead. They included about fifty children, the youngest being a two-year-old boy. Ashok Yadav, a regional police inspector general, previously said 141 deaths had been confirmed, but later revised the toll down.
A local MP, Kalyanji Kundariya, told media that he lost 12 family members in the crash, including five children.
Authorities launched a rescue operation immediately after the collapse, with boats and divers searching the river overnight and throughout Monday.
The bridge, 764 feet long and about 1.50 meters wide, was opened in 1880 by British colonial authorities and built with materials shipped from England, according to reports.
Gujarat’s tourism department describes the “great suspension bridge” about 120 miles west of the state’s main city, Ahmedabad, as an “artistic and technological marvel”.
Sandeepsinh Jhala, chief officer of the municipality of Morbi, said the bridge had not received a safety certificate after recent repair work.
Reports named the company that carried out the repairs as a unit of the Gujarat-based Oreva Group, which describes itself as the world’s largest clock maker, and also makes lighting products and e-bikes. . The company could not immediately be reached for comment.
Modi, who was due to visit the site on Tuesday, said he “seldom would have felt so much pain in my life”.
Moscow and New Delhi have enjoyed close relations for decades, and the Kremlin said in a statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin sent condolences.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he was “deeply saddened” while Nepal, Bhutan, Britain and France also sent messages of support.
Accidents due to old and poorly maintained infrastructure, including bridges, are common in India.
In 2016, an air bridge collapse on a busy street in Kolkata killed at least 26 people.
Five years earlier, at least 32 people died when a crowded bridge collapsed in the resort town of Darjeeling.