A day after a pedestrian bridge in the western Indian state of Gujarat collapsed, killing more than 140 people, locals are still searching for those missing in the river.
- The collapse happened after a group of young boys started to swing the bridge from side to side
- Investigators say that the bridge collapsed due to overcrowding and a premature reopening after renovations
- Thousands of locals have been on the riverbanks helping with the search efforts
When Asmin Arjun Bhai Adian stepped onto a tourist-favourite suspension bridge in India’s Western state of Gujarat, it was so crowded he could not move.
A group of young boys started to swing the bridge from side to side, and what followed was one of India’s deadliest events in recent history.
“Fifteen to 20 young boys were doing mischief on the bridge … there were hundreds of people on the bridge. It was overcrowded,” Asmin told the ABC.
“There was a little noise at first, then more noise, and the third time the bridge broke down.”
Morbi was packed with people on holiday for India’s Diwali festivities when the bridge collapsed on Sunday evening local time, killing more than 140 people, including many children, who plunged into the shallow and rocky river below.
The full scale of the tragedy has taken days to assess, and rescue teams continue to recover bodies from the river.
Asmin was only able to survive because he climbed back up the fallen bridge.
“I got very nervous after the bridge collapsed,” he said.
“It broke down with a huge noise. Everyone was screaming, ‘help, help’.”
“Me and my friend climbed the rope. I saw people fall in the water.
“I saw people who were standing around me on the bridge drowning.”
News of the bridge collapse spread across town, and then came the terrifying search for loved ones.
Bikhu’s son Ravi was on the bridge with two friends.
“I got nervous after hearing about the accident. I immediately came to hospital but they did not allow me to enter,” she told the ABC.
“My son and his friend survived with the blessing of God.”
But their third friend was still missing.
“I did not know that my brother was on the bridge, and after the collapse, my friend who visited the bridge earlier called me and said that he saw my brother on the bridge,” Ravi’s brother Bharat Kishore Patalia said.
“Then I went into the water at the accident site to search for my brother but I could not find him there.
“Later, I got call from a person [telling me] that my brother is in hospital.”
Overcrowding after recent renovations blamed for collapse
Investigators say there are two reasons the bridge collapsed: overcrowding because too many tickets were sold, and a premature opening after renovations.
The bridge was built in 1877 during Queen Victoria’s reign of India, but it had been shut for renovations and only reopened four days before the collapse.
Authorities have arrested nine people over the incident, including ticketing clerks, managerial staff, and people awarded a contract to repair the bridge.
Among those arrested were two people who were awarded a contract to repair the structure.
“The world should know that had the bridge not been overloaded, then this tragedy would not have happened,” Asmin said.
A Gujarat company, Oreva, which calls itself the “world’s largest clock manufacturer company” was responsible for a six-month renovation of the bridge.
The Indian Express newspaper 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.”
Authorities say they were not told the bridge would be reopened last week and no certificate had been issued saying it was fit for purpose.
“They did not give us any information that they were reopening the bridge,” Sandeepsinh Zala, the chief officer of the Morbi Municipality, said.
“We have not issued any fitness certificate to them.”
Jayrajsinh Jadeja, a local member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, blamed Oreva for selling tickets without restrictions and said overcrowding led to the bridge collapse.
The bridge was previously maintained by the local municipality, which limited the number of people on the bridge at one time to 20, he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is from the state of Gujarat, reportedly chaired a high-level meeting on the collapse, saying survivors and victims’ familes should get every possible assistance.
Mr Modi is due to visit Morbi on Tuesday, saying earlier that he had rarely “experienced such pain”.
“Rarely in my life, would I have experienced such pain,” he said.
“On one hand, there is a pain-riddled heart and, on the other hand, there is the path to duty.”
Mourning for Morbi
After searching for hours, Bharat Kishore Patalia found out that his friend had died. He had to break it to his brother and their other friend in hospital.
“He was brought dead here. He was there in the water until 1:30pm the next afternoon and now he is dead.”
Thousands of locals like Sanjay Seth have been on the Machchhu River banks, helping with the search efforts and providing food and water for emergency services.
“There is mourning in each house of Morbi,” he said.
“We are together standing with those who’ve lost their children. Each man, woman and child of the town is doing service and fighting.”