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November 27, 2022

Source: bbc.com

Hundreds of rescuers in boats continue to scour a river after a pedestrian suspension bridge collapsed in India’s western state of Gujarat.

Officials say 141 people have died, most of them women, children or elderly.

The bridge in Morbi town had reopened just a week ago after repairs.

There was overcrowding on the colonial-era bridge at the time as people celebrated the Diwali festival, officials said.

The 230m (754ft)-bridge on the Machchhu river was built during British rule in the 19th Century.

In travel brochures, a visit to the Julto Pul (or the Hanging Bridge) is listed among “the top 10 things to do in Morbi” and it attracts a large number of tourists and local people on holidays and at festivals.

Officials have not yet said how many people were on the bridge when tragedy struck at around 18:40 (13:10 GMT) on Sunday, but estimates put it between 400 and 500.

More than 177 people have been rescued, officials said. The death toll is expected to rise further.

On Monday morning, a dozen boats with members of the national and state disaster response teams were continuing to search for survivors while divers from the Indian navy were on standby, reports the BBC Gujarati’s Roxy Gagdekar who is at the scene.

Four cranes have been deployed to pull out the wreckage and rescuers are looking for bodies trapped underneath.

Distressed relatives are looking for their loved ones and as the hours pass, their desperation is growing, our correspondent says.

“I was holding her hand when the bridge collapsed and we fell into the river. I survived and have been looking for her everywhere, I went to the government hospital also, but my sister is nowhere to be found,” he said, sobbing.

A video shot before the collapse showed the overcrowded bridge swaying while people gripped the netting on its sides.

After the incident, dozens were seen clinging onto the wreckage as emergency teams attempted to rescue them. Some survivors clambered up the bridge’s broken netting, and others managed to swim to the river banks.

Early Monday morning, rescuers made an opening in a small check dam on the river, about 500 metres downstream, to reduce the water flow.

The bridge above the dam is packed with people, waiting to hear news of their loved ones or watching the rescue.

Gujarat is the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has announced compensation for the families of victims. He said he was “deeply saddened by the tragedy”.

“I express my condolences to families of those who lost their lives in the accident. In this hour of grief, the government is with the bereaved families in every manner,” Mr Modi said on Monday at an event in the state.

He added that a committee had been set up to investigate the collapse.

Questions are being asked about whether safety checks were done before the bridge was reopened.

Prateek Vasava was on the bridge at the time. He told 24 Hours, a Gujarati-language news channel, how he had swum to the river bank.

Several children fell into the river, he said, adding: “I wanted to pull some of them along with me but they had drowned or got swept away.”

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