Modi to visit India bridge collapse site as families mourn

Modi to visit India bridge collapse site as families mourn

MORBHI, India (AP) — India’s prime minister was to visit the site in western India where a newly repaired 143-year-old suspension bridge crashed into a river, sending hundreds into the water and killing at least 134 in one of the country’s worst accidents in years.

Narendra Modi was expected to arrive in the city of Morbi in the state of Gujarat later on Tuesday. Gujarat is Modi’s home state and he was already visiting it at the time of the accident. He said he was “deeply saddened by the tragedy” and his office announced compensation for the families of the dead.

Outraged and grieving families mourned the dead as attention turned to why the footbridge, built during British colonial rule in the late 1800s and touted by the state’s tourism website as an “artistic and technological marvel”, collapsed on Sunday night and who may be liable. The bridge had reopened just four days earlier.

Inspector General Ashok Yadav told The Associated Press that no one was missing “at this time” according to the official count, but emergency crews and divers were still being deployed for search operations early Tuesday.

“We want to be on the side of caution,” Yadav said. “Although, as of now, I can say that there are no missing persons, but we do not want to take any chances and continue searching for any missing persons today.”

The officer said at least 196 were rescued and all 10 of the injured were stable.

At least half a dozen divers searched the dark water at the crash site. They said at least two people were still believed to be missing.

“Mud, weed and muck are hampering our efforts to find missing people,” said Ankit Yadav, a diver.

On Monday, police arrested nine peopleincluding the managers of the bridge operator, Oreva Group, as they launched an investigation into the incident.

Gujarat authorities opened a case against Oreva for suspected murder, attempted murder and other violations.

In March, the local government of the city of Morbi awarded a 15-year contract for the maintenance and management of the bridge to Oreva, a group of companies known mainly for making watches, mosquito nets and electric bicycles. That same month, Oreva closed the bridge, which spans a wide section of the Machchu River, for seven months for repairs.

The bridge has been repaired several times in the past and many of its original parts have been replaced over the years.

It reopened on October 26, the first day of the Gujarati New Year, which coincides with the Hindu festival season. The attraction attracted hundreds of tourists.

Sandeepsinh Zala, a Morbi official, told the Indian Express newspaper that the company reopened the bridge without first obtaining a “fitness certificate”. That could not be independently verified, but officials said they were investigating.

Authorities said the structure collapsed under the weight of hundreds of people. A security video of the disaster showed it shaking violently and people trying to hold on to its cables and metal fence before the aluminum catwalk gave way and fell into the river.

The bridge split in half with its walkway dangling and its cables snapped.

It was unclear how many people were on the bridge when it collapsed and how many were still missing, but survivors said it was so dense that people could not escape quickly when its cables began to break.

Modi was Gujarat’s top elected official for 12 years before becoming India’s prime minister in 2014. Elections for the Gujarat state government are expected in the coming months, and opposition parties have called for a thorough investigation into the accident.

The bridge collapse was the third major disaster in Asia involving large crowds in a month.

On Saturday, a Halloween mob killed more than 150 people watching festivities in Itaewon, a neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea. On October 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, causing a crash that killed 132. people as spectators tried to flee.

India’s infrastructure has long been marred by security problems, and Morbi has suffered other major disasters. In 1979, a dam upstream on the Machchu River burst, sending walls of water into the city and killing hundreds of people in one of India’s worst dam failures.

In 2001, thousands of people died in an earthquake in Gujarat. Morbi, 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the epicenter in Bhuj, suffered extensive damage. According to a report in the Times of India newspaper, the bridge that collapsed on Sunday was also badly damaged.

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Hussain reported from New Delhi. Chonchui Ngashangva in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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