Video footage shows pedestrians attempting to sway an Indian suspension bridge in the moments before it catastrophically collapsed, leaving at least 141 people dead as of Monday.
Rescuers expect the death toll to continue to rise after the bridge fell apart in the western state of Gujarat on Sunday. The majority of those killed were women, children, or elderly people, a local official told the BBC. Almost 180 people were successfully rescued, however, in an overnight operation involving national and state disaster relief personnel and the Indian military. Rescuers on boats plucked victims from the dark waters around the bridge and ferried them to the river’s muddy banks, where volunteers and soldiers waited with stretchers to receive the living and the dead.
The 754-foot bridge over the Machchu river, which was built during British rule in the 19th century, had only been reopened for four days after months of repairs when the tragic incident occurred.
Video footage of the seconds leading up to the disaster appears to show people attempting to sway the crowded structure as others take photos. The cables on one side of the bridge then snap, plunging the crowd around 33 feet into the water below.
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Separate footage showing the aftermath of the collapse shows people clinging onto the bridge’s netting, with others attempting to scale the twisted wreckage to escape the water. “People were hanging from the bridge after the accident, but they slipped and fell into the river when it collapsed,” an eyewitness giving only the name Raju told Reuters. “I could not sleep the entire night as I had helped in the rescue operation. I brought a lot of children to the hospital.”
Authorities have made nine arrests in connection with the disaster, a senior police officer said. People detained include ticketing clerks, managerial staff, and three security guards, who allegedly failed to regulate the crowd before the bridge collapsed. Two people who had been awarded a contract to repair the bridge were also detained, Ashok Kumar Yadav said, adding that further arrests are likely.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was born in what became Gujarat state where the bridge collapsed, said of the disaster: “Rarely in my life have I experienced such pain.” He said that the government would award financial compensation to the families of the dead and to injured survivors.
The chief officer of Morbi municipality said a local electrical appliances maker, Oreva group, had been tasked with the bridge’s maintenance. “They did not give us any information that they were reopening the bridge,” Sandeepsinh Zala said. “We have not issued any fitness certificate to them.”
The Indian Express newspaper on Monday quoted an Oreva spokesperson as saying: “While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other.”