MORBI: Divers searched for more bodies on Tuesday after the collapse of a newly renovated pedestrian bridge killed 134 people in western India, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the disaster site.
Questions also grew about the possible cause of the catastrophe at Morbi, in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, on Sunday.
Nine people have been arrested on homicide charges over the collapse of the 150-year-old structure.
The suspension bridge was packed with people celebrating the final day of the Diwali holidays. Forty-seven children were among those killed.
Horrific CCTV footage showed the rickety structure, a popular tourist spot, loaded with people and then suddenly giving way as cables snapped.
Several hundred fell into the river while others clung desperately to the twisted remains of the bridge, screaming in the dark for help.
“I heard screams and a loud thud and then there was silence. Then slowly cries and screams,” survivor Madhvi Ben, 30, told AFP.
Ben said one of her legs was tangled in “a steel rope”, leaving her almost entirely submerged before she managed to break free and be rescued.
Morbi businessman Rafiq Gaffar, whose two nephews aged 12 and 21 died, described the scene as “mayhem”.
“People were crying and wailing. It was a scene from doomsday,” said Gaffar, 45.
“There were bodies floating on the water everywhere and people trapped on the bridge who were frantically calling for help.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday joined other world leaders in sending his “deep condolences”.
There were no further reports of missing people on Tuesday.
As Modi watched, rescuers in inflatable boats drove in circles trying to bring up any objects from the bottom of the river.
“We have not called off the search operation yet as there is always this apprehension there could be victims from outside whose kin are not aware of their whereabouts and haven’t contacted us yet,” said Rahul Tripathi from Morbi police.
The bridge renovations were reportedly carried out by local firm Oreva, whose experience was limited to clocks, e-bikes and other products.
The company could not be reached immediately for comment.
Sandeepsinh Jhala, a municipal government officer in Morbi, on Monday said the bridge had not been issued with a safety certificate.
The nine people arrested on Monday on charges of culpable homicide included two Oreva managers and two sub-contractors.
Also held were two ticket collectors accused of selling too many passes — causing the bridge to be overloaded — and three security guards.
“As and when the investigation progresses, names of others associated with the Oreva Group will also be booked,” senior police official Ashok Yadav told reporters on Monday.
Auto rickshaw driver Ilyas Khan Akbar Khan Pathan, 33, lost his wife and two children aged six and three in the tragedy, as well as his sister-in-law and two nieces.
“We found the bodies around four in the morning. My daughter Mahiya had her head buried in the slush and people pulled her out using boats,” Pathan told AFP on Tuesday.
“The police and administration took almost two hours to launch the rescue operation… The authorities were clueless,” he said.
Puneet Pitroda, 35, whose brother and sister-in-law died, told AFP that the authorities were “fully responsible for the tragedy”.
“We will never forget this night,” he said.
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