AHMEDABAD — At least 75 people were killed on Sunday in India after an almost 150-year-old colonial-era pedestrian bridge collapsed, sending scores of people tumbling into the river below.
Authorities said nearly 500 people including women and children were celebrating a religious festival on and around the suspension bridge in Morbi in western India when cables supporting it snapped soon after dark.
This brought the rickety structure in the western state of Gujarat crashing down into the river, spilling scores of people into the water while others clung desperately to the wreckage.
“Seventy-five people have died,” a district civil official told AFP over phone. He said most the victims drowned.
Other unconfirmed media reports put the death toll at around 90.
Brijesh Merja, a minister in the Gujarat government, said more than 80 people have been rescued.
The bridge over the Machchhu river around 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of Gujarat’s main city, Ahmedabad had only re-opened several days earlier after months of repairs.
“People fell on top of each other after the bridge collapsed. People had flocked to the bridge for rituals and because of the Diwali festival. Many children and women were among the victims,” one witness told local media.
News reports showed videos — which could not be independently verified — of people hanging onto what remained of the bridge or trying to swim to safety in the dark.
The suspension bridge, 233 metres (764 feet) long and 1.5 metres wide, was inaugurated in 1880 by the British colonial authorities and made with materials shipped over from England, reports said.
Broadcaster NDTV reported that it reopened on Wednesday after seven months of repairs despite not having a safety certificate, and that video footage from Saturday showed it swaying wildly.
Authorities on Sunday launched a rescue operation following the collapse, with boats and divers deployed to search for missing people late into the night.
Dozens of soldiers from Indian Army and Navy were also called for the rescue operation.
Authorities were also planning to stop water supply to the river from the nearby check dam and use pumps to de-water the river to speed up the search operation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was touring his home state of Gujarat at the time, announced compensation for those killed and injured in the accident.
Modi “sought urgent mobilisation of teams for rescue (operations)”, his office tweeted.
“He has asked that the situation be closely and continuously monitored, and (for authorities to) extend all possible help to those affected.”
The Gujarat government on its official website describes the bridge as “an engineering marvel built at the turn of the century”.
Accidents from old and poorly maintained infrastructure including bridges are common in India.
In 2016 the collapse of a flyover onto a busy street in the eastern city of Kolkata killed at least 26 people. Rescue workers pulled out nearly 100 people injured from under huge concrete slabs and metal.
In 2011 at least 32 people are killed when a bridge packed with festival crowds collapsed in northeast India, about 20 miles (30 kilometres) from the hill town of Darjeeling.
Less than a week later around 30 people were killed when a footbridge over a river in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh collapsed.
In 2006 at least 34 people were killed when a 150-year-old bridge collapsed on a passenger train in the railway station in the eastern state of Bihar. — AFP