Nine arrested after India bridge collapse kills 134

MORBI, India – Police in western India arrested nine people on Monday as they investigate the collapse of a recently repaired 143-year-old suspension bridge in one of the country’s worst accidents in years , officials said. Sunday night’s collapse in Gujarat state plunged hundreds of people into a river, killing at least 134 people.

As families mourned the dead, attention turned to why the pedestrian bridge, built during British colonialism in the late 1800s and touted by the state’s tourism website as a ” artistic and technological marvel”, collapsed and who could be responsible for it. The bridge had reopened four days earlier.

Inspector General Ashok Yadav said police had formed a special investigation team and those arrested included officials from bridge operator Oreva Group and its staff.

“We won’t let the culprits get away, we won’t spare anyone,” Yadav said.

Gujarat authorities have opened a case against Oreva for alleged culpable homicide, attempted culpable homicide and other violations.

In March, the local government of the city of Morbi awarded a 15-year contract to maintain and manage the bridge to Oreva, a group of companies known mainly for making clocks, mosquito zappers and electric bicycles. In the same month, Oreva closed the bridge, which spans a wide section of the Machchu River, for repairs.

The bridge has been repaired several times in the past and many of its original parts have been replaced over the years.

It was reopened nearly seven months later on October 26, the first day of the Gujarati New Year, which coincides with the Hindu festival season, and the attraction attracted hundreds of tourists.

Sandeepsinh Zala, a Morbi official, told the Indian Express newspaper that the company had reopened the bridge without first obtaining a “certificate of fitness”. This could not be independently verified, but officials said they were investigating.

Authorities said the structure collapsed under the weight of hundreds of people. Security video of the disaster showed it shaking violently and people trying to cling to its wires and metal fencing before the aluminum walkway gave way and crashed into the river.

The bridge split in the middle with its dangling footbridge, its cables broken.

Police said at least 134 people had been confirmed dead and many more had been admitted to hospitals in critical condition. Emergency responders and rescuers worked through the night and throughout the day Monday to search for survivors. State Minister Harsh Sanghvi said most of the victims were teenagers, women and the elderly.

At least 177 survivors have been pulled from the river, said Jigar Khunt, an official with Gujarat’s information department. It was unclear how many people were on the bridge when it collapsed and how many remained missing, but survivors said it was so dense that people were unable to escape quickly when its cables began to break.

“There were too many people on deck. We could barely move,” said Sidik Bai, 27, as he recovered from his injuries in a hospital in Morbi.

Sidik said he jumped into the water when the bridge started to crack and saw his friend being crushed by its metal walkway. He survived by clinging to the cables of the bridge.

“Everyone was screaming for help, but one by one they all started to disappear into the water,” Sidik said.

Local news channels aired photos of the missing shared by worried relatives, and family members rushed to overcrowded hospitals in search of their loved ones.

Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was visiting the state at the time of the accident. He said he was “deeply saddened by the tragedy” and his office announced compensation for the families of the dead and called for swift rescue efforts.

“Rarely in my life would I have felt such pain,” Modi said at a public event in the state on Monday.

Modi was Gujarat’s highest elected official for 12 years before becoming India’s prime minister in 2014. A Gujarat state government election is due in the coming months and opposition parties have demanded a full investigation about the accident.

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