Modi to visit site of deadly Indian bridge collapse

Modi to visit site of deadly Indian bridge collapse

Members of India's Youth Congress take part in a candlelight vigil in New Delhi on Monday for victims of the bridge collapse
Members of India's Youth Congress take part in a candlelight vigil in New Delhi on Monday for victims of the bridge collapse. Photo: Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP
Source: AFP

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Divers searched for more bodies on Tuesday after the collapse of a recently renovated suspension bridge killed 134 people in western India, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi preparing to visit the disaster site.

Questions also grew about the possible cause of the catastrophe at Morbi, in Modi's home state of Gujarat, on Sunday.

Nine people have been arrested on homicide charges over the collapse of the 150-year-old structure.

The pedestrian bridge was packed with people celebrating the final day of the Diwali holidays. Forty-seven children were among those killed, with a previous overall toll of 137 revised downwards.

Horrific CCTV footage showed the rickety structure, a popular tourist spot, packed with people and then suddenly giving way as cables snapped.

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Several hundred fell into the river, while others clung desperately to the twisted remains of the bridge screaming in the dark for help.

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"I heard screams and a loud thud and then there was silence. Then slowly cries and screams," survivor Madhvi Ben, 30, told AFP.

Ben said one of her legs was tangled in "a steel rope", leaving her almost entirely submerged and struggling to break free.

"I somehow blocked my nose and pulled myself up and released my leg from the wire. I grabbed another wire and climbed the remains of the bridge," she said.

Morbi businessman Rafiq Gaffar, whose two nephews aged 12 and 21 died, described the scene as "mayhem".

"People were crying and wailing. It was a scene from doomsday," Gaffar, 45, said.

"There were bodies floating on the water everywhere and people trapped on the bridge who were frantically calling for help."

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'Apprehension'

There were no further reports of missing people on Tuesday.

Rescuers in inflatable boats drove in circles in an attempt to bring up any objects from the bottom of the river.

"We have not called off the search operation yet as there is always this apprehension there could be victims from outside whose kin are not aware of their whereabouts and haven't contacted us yet," said Rahul Tripathi of the Morbi police force.

Workers also picked up plastic rubbish from the river banks and were reportedly painting a hospital that Modi was due to visit.

The bridge renovations were reportedly carried out by local firm Oreva, whose experience was limited to clocks, e-bikes and other products.

The company could not be reached immediately for comment.

Jaysukh Patel, chairman of Ajanta Manufacturing, part of Oreva, had cut a ribbon to reopen the bridge on October 26 and said then the span would last 15 more years.

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But Sandeepsinh Jhala, Morbi municipality's chief officer, said on Monday the bridge had not been issued a safety certificate.

Police arrested nine people on charges of culpable homicide on Monday, just as authorities announced an inquiry.

They included two Oreva managers, two sub-contractors and two ticket collectors accused of selling too many passes, which caused the bridge to be overloaded.

Three security guards were also arrested for failing to manage the crowd at the bridge, senior police official Ashok Yadav told reporters on Monday.

"As and when the investigation progresses, names of others associated with the Oreva Group will also be booked," Yadav said.

He said a team had been formed to investigate aspects of the maintenance and structural safety of the bridge.

Textile trader Puneet Pitroda, 35, told AFP at Morbi's crematorium on Monday that the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law had been recovered from the river.

"The authorities are fully responsible for the tragedy. They allowed hundreds to gather on the bridge when it had a capacity to hold just a small number," he said.

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"We will never forget this night."

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Source: AFP

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