India bridge collapse toll jumps to 134, could rise further

The 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.

 A view shows a damaged part of a suspension bridge after it collapsed in Morbi town in the western state of Gujarat, India, October 30, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)
A view shows a damaged part of a suspension bridge after it collapsed in Morbi town in the western state of Gujarat, India, October 30, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

The death toll from a suspension bridge collapse in India rose to 134 on Monday and officials fear the number could grow as authorities opened a criminal case into one of the deadliest accidents in the country in the past 10 years.

What happened?

The colonial-era footbridge over the Machhu River in the center of Morbi town was packed with sightseers enjoying holiday festivities when it collapsed on Sunday evening, plunging people about 10 meters (33 feet) into the river below.

"The death toll in the bridge collapse incident has gone up to 132. The search and rescue operations are continuing," said the senior official, NK Muchhar, adding that the toll could rise further.

Armed forces personnel along with national disaster management and emergency teams from nearby districts were deployed to trace missing people and help with rescue operations, Muchhar said.

Authorities said more than 400 people were on and around the colonial-era suspension bridge at the time of the collapse. The bridge had drawn many sightseers celebrating the Diwali, or festival of lights, and Chhath Puja holidays.

 Ambulances arrive at a hospital following the collapse of a suspension bridge in Morbi, India October 30, 2022 in this screen grab obtained from a video. (credit: ANI/ Handout via REUTERS) Ambulances arrive at a hospital following the collapse of a suspension bridge in Morbi, India October 30, 2022 in this screen grab obtained from a video. (credit: ANI/ Handout via REUTERS)

A five-member team was appointed to conduct an investigation into the disaster.

The 230-meter 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 recently.

The bridge had drawn many sightseers

The bridge had drawn many sightseers celebrating the Diwali, or festival of lights, and Chhath Puja holidays.

"Many children were enjoying holidays for Diwali and they came here as tourists. All of them fell one on top of another. The bridge collapsed due to overloading," said one witness, who gave his name as Sukram.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in his home state Gujarat for a three-day visit, said he had directed the state chief minister to mobilize teams urgently for the rescue operation.

Fifty navy and 30 air force personnel were called in to help along with a national disaster management team to trace missing people, the government said in a statement. A five-member team was appointed to conduct an investigation into the disaster.

Opposition party leaders alleged that the government had not conducted a thorough technical assessment and load-bearing capacity before it was opened to the public.

Morbi is renowned as a ceramic manufacturing center.

The incident also comes ahead of elections in Gujarat, which are expected to be held by the year-end with the current term of Modi's ruling party's term ending in February 2023.