MORBI, India — At least 132 people were killed after a century-old cable suspension bridge collapsed into a river Sunday evening in the western Indian state of Gujarat, sending hundreds plunging in the water in one of the worst accidents in the country over the past decade, officials said.
Authorities said the 19th-century, colonial-era pedestrian bridge over the Machchu river in the state’s Morbi district collapsed because it could not handle the weight of the large crowd, as the Hindu festival season drew hundreds of people to the recently opened tourist attraction. The bridge had been closed for renovation for almost six months and was reopened just four days ago.
It was not immediately clear exactly how many people were on the 232-meter (761-foot) -long bridge, but officials fear the death toll could rise. State minister Harsh Sanghvi told reporters that 132 people have died so far and many were admitted to hospitals in critical condition.
Sanghvi said emergency responders and rescuers worked overnight to search for the survivors and those killed and injured were mostly teens, women and older people. Teams from the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force were also dispatched to help with the rescue.
Videos on social media showed people clinging onto the metal cables of the partly submerged bridge in distress as emergency teams and rescuers used boats and inflatable tires to reach them. Some people were seen swimming ashore to safety. Others, who were fished from the waters, were carried away and transported to the hospitals in private vehicles and ambulances.
Local news channels ran pictures of the missing shared by concerned relatives in search of their loved ones. Many relatives raced overnight to overcrowded hospitals looking for their kin.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is 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 urged for speedy rescue efforts.
A vote for Gujarat’s state government — led by Modi’s party — is expected in the coming months and opposition parties have demanded an investigation into the collapse, saying that the bridge was reopened without getting safety clearance from the city’s civic body. The claim could not be independently verified, but the state government said it has formed a special team to investigate the disaster.
Modi ruled the state as the top elected official for 12 years before becoming India’s prime minister in 2014.
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 neighborhood 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 attempted to flee.