AHMEDABAD: At least 141 people were declared dead after a century-old cable bridge collapsed into the Machchhu river in Gujarat’s Morbi on Sunday. The over-a-century-old suspension bridge, which had reopened five days ago after extensive repairs and renovation, was crammed with people when it collapsed around 6.30 pm on Sunday.
Around 100 people are reportedly still missing. Rescue operations were called off for the day on Monday evening.
A private operator had carried out extensive repairs for nearly six months before the suspension bridge was reopened on October 26 on the occasion of Gujarati New Year.
In March this year, Oreva Group was awarded the contract to maintain and manage the bridge by the Morbi municipality. It is alleged that the bridge was opened without a fitness certificate.
Nine persons were arrested on Monday in connection with the collapse including two managers, two ticket booking clerks of the Oreva Group that was managing the bridge, said Rajkot range IG Ashok Yadav.
Eyewitness Subhas said there were several women and children on the suspension bridge when its cables snapped. “We came here for a walk. Suddenly there was a loud noise. We saw people drowning in the river, most of them were women and children. I’ve dragged out eight persons from the river so far,” he said.
Some people were seen jumping on the bridge and pulling its big wires, another eyewitness said.
Hundreds of people had visited the bridge Sunday as it was a weekend.
Road and Building Department Minister Jagdish Panchal blamed the accident prima facie on overcrowding. “The bridge seems to have collapsed as too many people were on it at the same time, far exceeding its capacity,” he said.
While Gujarat DGP Ashish Bhatia claimed there were at least 100 people on the bridge when it collapsed, Gujarat Minister of State for Home, Harsh Sanghavi put the figure at 150.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was later deployed. “Three NDRF teams were dispatched — two from Gandhinagar and one from Baroda — to assist in the rescue operation,” NDRF director general Atul Karwal said.
Officials said a Gujarat State Disaster Response Force team stationed close to Morbi was the first to reach the accident site.
Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel announced an ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured people.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is on a three-day visit to Gujarat ahead of Assembly elections, spoke to the chief minister and other officials regarding the mishap. He sought to expedite rescue operations. PM Modi will visit Morbi on Tuesday.
The state government formed a five-member panel to probe the tragedy. Its members are Rajkumar Beniwal, Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner; K M Patel, chief engineer (quality control) in the road and building department in Gandhinagar; Dr Gopal Tank, head of the department of structural engineering at LD Engineering College; Sandip Vasava, secretary, road and housing ministry; and Subhash Trivedi, CID (crime) Inspector General.
Minister Harsh Sanghavi after visiting Morbi hospital said that a criminal case will be registered against the contractor and management, who renovated the suspension bridge on the Machhu river. “IPC sections for Culpable Homicide Act which cause death committed intentionally and abettor will be invoked in the criminal complaint, the process is underway to lodge the complaint," said Sanghvi.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and party leader Rahul Gandhi appealed to their cadre in Gujarat to extend all possible assistance in rescue work at Morbi.
VIEW PHOTOS | Tragic bridge collapse in Gujarat
Built by Morbi maharaja
The bridge was a European-style structure built by the Maharaja of Morbi Waghji Thakor, who was awarded “Night commander of the state of India” by Queen Victoria 125 years ago. It was 765 ft long, 4.6 ft wide and 60 ft above the ground.
Waghji Thakor ruled Morbi till 1922. He decided to construct the bridge, an artistic and technological marvel of that period, to connect Darbargadh Palace with Nazarbag Palace (the residences of the then royalty)