India suspension bridge collapses into Machchhu river, killing at least 134

Video shows people desperately clinging to wreckage in muddy brown water, shouting for help

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A suspension bridge carrying hundreds of people has collapsed in Gujarat, western India, killing at least 134 people and leading to a scramble to rescue people stranded in the Machchhu river, near the town of Morbi.

The death toll could increase, said Ashish Bhatia, Gujarat's director general of police. Rescue operations are under way and a number of people have been taken to safety, he said.

Officials said 400 people were on the structure at the time of the collapse. Video footage from the scene showed what remained of the bridge twisted and embedded in the muddy brown water, with scores of people clinging to the wreckage and shouting for help.

Officials said the crowd had gathered to celebrate a festival when it collapsed within 15 minutes of the reopening.

"We have recovered 134 bodies. The rescue work is over. We don't expect to retrieve any more bodies," P Dekavadiya, police officer in-charge, Morbi police station, told The National.

Mohan Kundariya, a parliamentarian with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, said that most of the casualties were women and children and the rescued were taken to nearby hospitals and were out of danger.

“We are now working on retrieving the bodies,” Mr Kundariya told India Today news channel.

He also said that an investigation will be launched to ascertain the cause of the incident.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is on a three-day tour in the election-bound state, will be visiting the site on Tuesday.

"I assure the citizens of the country that there would be no laxity in rescue and relief work…on the day of unity, this incident is encouraging us to unite together and face this difficult situation," Mr Modi, who is campaigning in state for upcoming elections, said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin extended his condolences to the families of the people who lost their lives in the incident.

“Dear Ms President, dear Mr Prime Minister, please accept my heartfelt condolences over the tragic bridge collapse in the state of Gujarat," Mr Putin said in a message published on the Kremlin website.

Saudi Arabia too sent condolences for the "loss of lives".

The 230-metre historic bridge was built during British rule in the 19th century. It had been closed for renovation for six months and was reopened for the public last week.

Local media quoted officials as saying that those on the bridge were performing rituals for a major religious festival when it gave way into the Machchhu river.

Federal emergency teams were rushed to the site of the accident to assist the rescue operation and half a dozen boats and ambulances and rescue vans were dispatched at the site, officials said.

“We are using ropes to retrieve the bodies,” said National Disaster Response Force official Ramesh, who gave only his first name.

Around 40-50 people were still missing in the river as rescue officials were using boats, a fire official department told local media.

TV images showed people desperately holding on to a net on the bridge the moment it collapsed. Another clip showed some victims frantically swimming towards the collapsed part of the bridge.

Accidents from old and poorly maintained infrastructure including bridges are common in India.

In 2016 the collapse of a flyover on to 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 north-east India, about 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 north-eastern 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.

Updated: November 01, 2022, 12:31 PM