Indian police on Monday arrested nine people, including contractors and ticketing agents, over the disastrous suspension bridge collapse that killed at least 134 pedestrians.
Inspector-General Ashok Yadav said the nine people arrested in connection to the disaster Sunday in the small industrial city of Morbi included managers of the bridge’s operator, Oreva Group, tickets clerks and three security guards.
“We won’t let the guilty get away, we won’t spare anyone,” Yadav warned.
Surveillance video capturing the final moments before the tragedy showed a group of young men taking photos on the overcrowded colonial-era bridge while others were rocking it from side to side, before they all tumbled more than 30 feet into the Machchhu River below as the cables snapped.
Gujarat authorities opened a case against bridge operator 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 built in 1877 during the British occupation 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 Machchu River, for repairs.
The bridge has been repaired several times in the past and many of its original parts have been replaced over the years.
It was reopened nearly seven months later, on Oct. 26, the first day of the Gujarati New Year, which coincides with the Hindu festival season, and the attraction drew hundreds of sightseers.
Sandeepsinh Zala, a Morbi official, told the Indian Express newspaper the company reopened the bridge without first obtaining a certificate indicating that it was fit for public use.
“They did not give us any information that they were reopening the bridge,” Zala said. “We have not issued any fitness certificate to them.”
Jayrajsinh Jadeja, a local lawmaker from Indian Prime Minister Narendra 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 it at one time to 20, he said.
On Sunday, some 400 people had bought tickets to get onto the 4-foot-wide bridge spanning 255 yards to celebrate the Diwali and Chhath Puja festivals.
Authorities said the structure collapsed under the weight of the people. A security video of the disaster showed it shaking violently and people trying to hold onto its cables and metal fencing before the aluminum walkway gave way and crashed into the river’s muddy waters.
The bridge split in the middle with its walkway hanging down, its cables snapped.
“There were just too many people on the bridge. We could barely move,” Sidik Bai, 27, said while recovering from injuries in a hospital in Morbi.
Sidik said he jumped into the water when the bridge began to crack and saw his friend being crushed by its metal walkway. He survived by clinging to the bridge’s cables.
“Everyone was crying for help, but one by one they all began disappearing in the water,” Sidik said.
Ashwin Mehra, who was being treated for leg and back injuries, said he and six others had reached the shore by holding onto the bridge’s metal railings and netting.
“There were about 15 to 20 boys aged between 20 and 25 years who were shaking the bridge,” he told the news outlet ANI. “… We heard some sounds three times, and the sixth time, the cable (of the bridge) suddenly snapped.”
About 35 victims were under 14, according to a list of the deceased seen by Reuters. At least 177 people had been rescued by the morning. Some of the survivors were hospitalized in critical condition.
“People were hanging from the bridge after the accident, but they slipped and fell into the river when it collapsed,” said Raju, a witness who gave only one name. “I could not sleep the entire night as I had helped in the rescue operation. I brought a lot of children to the hospital.”
Narendrasinh Jadeja, whose friend lost seven members of his family, including four children, said: “I cannot express how angry and helpless I am feeling.”
State minister Harsh Sanghvi said most of the victims were teenagers, women and older people.
President Biden released a statement Monday afternoon expressing his sorrow to the people of India over the tragedy.
“Today, our hearts are with India,” the statement read. “Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones during the bridge collapse, and join the people of Gujarat in mourning the loss of too many lives cut short.
“The United States and India are indispensable partners, with deep bonds between our citizens. In this difficult hour, we will continue to stand with and support the Indian people.”
Gujarat is the home state of PM Modi, who was visiting the state at the time of the accident. He said he was “deeply saddened by the tragedy” and his office announced compensation for 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 Monday.
With Post wires