India bridge collapse death toll rises to 134, with 9 people arrested
Bridge was closed for renovation for almost 6 months and reopened just days ago
Police in western India arrested nine people on Monday as they investigated the collapse of a newly repaired 143-year-old suspension bridge in one of the country's worst accidents in years, officials said. The collapse Sunday evening in Gujarat state sent hundreds of people plunging into a river, killing at least 134.
Inspector General Ashok Yadav said police have formed a special investigative team, and that those arrested include managers of the bridge's operator, Oreva Group, and its staff.
"We won't let the guilty get away. We won't spare anyone," Yadav said.
Gujarat authorities opened a case against Oreva for suspected culpable homicide, attempted culpable homicide and other violations.
In March, the local Morbi town government 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 bikes. The same month, Oreva closed the bridge, which spans a wide section of the Machchhu river, for repairs.
Authorities said the 19th-century, colonial-era pedestrian bridge collapsed because it could not handle the weight of the large crowd, as the Hindu festival season drew hundreds of sightseers to the recently opened tourist attraction.
The 232-metre-long bridge had been closed for repairs for almost six months and had reopened just four days earlier for the Gujarati New Year. Visuals from the disaster site showed the bridge split in the middle and the metal carriageway hanging down, its metal cables snapped in places.
'We could barely move'
Authorities said the structure collapsed under the weight of hundreds of people. A security video of the disaster showed it shaking violently and people trying to hold on to its cables and metal fencing before the aluminum walkway gave way and crashed into the river.
At least 177 survivors were pulled from the river and teams from the army, navy and air force were searching for others still missing, said Jigar Khunt, an information department official in Gujarat.
As of midday Monday, Global Affairs Canada said they were not aware of "any Canadian citizens being affected."
Police said at least 134 people were confirmed dead and many others were admitted to hospitals in critical condition. Emergency responders and rescuers worked overnight and throughout Monday to search for survivors.
"There were just too many people on the bridge. We could barely move," Sidik Bai, 27, said while recovering from injuries in a hospital bed in Morbi.
Sidik said he jumped into the water when the bridge began to crack and saw his friend being crushed by its metal carriageway. He survived the disaster by climbing on the bridge and holding onto its cables, but his friend couldn't make it.
"Everyone was crying for help, but one by one they all began disappearing in the water," Sidik said.
Modi 'deeply saddened' by tragedy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was in his home state of Gujarat on a three-day visit, said he was "deeply saddened by the tragedy." His office announced compensation to the families of the dead and called for speedy rescue efforts.
"Rarely in my life would I have experienced such pain," Modi said during a public event in the state on Monday.
Modi ruled Gujarat as its top elected official for 12 years before becoming India's prime minister in 2014.
A Gujarat state government election is expected in the coming months and opposition parties have demanded an investigation into the collapse, saying that the bridge was reopened without having a safety clearance. The claim could not be independently verified, but the state government said it has formed a special team to investigate the disaster.
India's infrastructure has long been marred by safety concerns, sometimes leading to major disasters on its highways and bridges.
The bridge collapse is Asia's third major disaster involving large crowds in a month.
On Saturday, a Halloween crowd surge killed more than 150 mostly young people who attended festivities in Itaewon, a neighbourhood in Seoul, South Korea. On Oct. 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators tried to flee.