MORBI, India, Nov 1 (Reuters) – The death toll from the collapse of an Indian footbridge rose to 135 on Tuesday as search operations entered a third day, although authorities said almost everyone believed to be on the lost are now counted.
The colonial-era suspension bridge over the Machchhu river in Morbi was packed with revelers – many in town to celebrate the Diwali and Chhath Puja festivals – when it broke on Sunday night, sending people plunging about 10 meters (33 feet) into the water.
Authorities said they believed around 200 people were on the bridge when it collapsed.
“One person who was injured in the incident and admitted to hospital has succumbed to his injuries, taking the toll to 135,” GT Pandya, a senior administrative official in Morbi, told Reuters.
“Search operations have started again today. We believe one person is currently missing.”
Local residents at the scene of the wrecked bridge told Reuters on Tuesday, however, that they believed there were more than 200 people on the bridge and feared the death toll could rise further.
Indian army, navy and national disaster response force (NDRF) teams continued search operations as locals gathered on the banks of the river. The bridge – 233 meters long and 1.25 meters wide – was originally built in 1877 and had been closed for six months for repairs until last week.
“It is suspected that some bodies may be there downstream. That is why we resumed the operations with the help of our deep divers,” NDRF officer VVN Prasanna Kumar told Reuters television partner ANI.
CCTV footage of the incident showed a group of young men trying to swing the bridge from side to side while others took the pictures before they fell into the river below as the cables gave way.
Indian police arrested nine people on Monday on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Those arrested included ticket clerks who were accused of placing too many people on the bridge and contractors who had been responsible for repair work.
The western state of Gujarat, where Morbi is located, declared Wednesday a day of mourning.
The state government said in a statement that 152 people have been discharged from hospital while 17 are still undergoing treatment.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from Gujarat and was the state’s chief minister for nearly 13 years, will visit the industrial town later in the day.
Modi, who had been touring the state which has elections due early next year, is expected to visit the disaster site and the Morbi hospital, officials said.
Opposition parties attacked Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party for what they called an unusually fresh paint job for the hospital ahead of the prime minister’s visit.
US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping were the latest to send condolences for the loss of life, many of them children.
“In this difficult hour, we will continue to stand with and support the people of India,” Biden said in a statement.
China’s state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as saying: “On behalf of the Chinese government and the Chinese people, I would like to express our deepest condolences to the victims and extend our sincere condolences to their families and those who have been injured.”
Reporting by Shivam Patel and Sumit Khanna; Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Edited by Edwina Gibbs and Jacqueline Wong
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