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HomeIndiaThe 'ruckus' that led to Gujarat’s Morbi bridge collapse & the challenges...

The ‘ruckus’ that led to Gujarat’s Morbi bridge collapse & the challenges facing rescue teams

At least 141 people have been reported dead in the collapse of a suspension cable bridge in Morbi Sunday, while several others are believed missing.

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Morbi/New Delhi: Around 6:30 pm Sunday, Ashwin Bhai recalls going to the suspension bridge in Gujarat’s Morbi town, to enjoy the view of the Machchhu river. Little did he know that the seemingly-harmless outing would find him in a hospital bed the next day with a leg injury.

“A group of 15-20 boys was creating a ruckus in the middle of the bridge, which led to crowds gathering on both ends. We heard screams, and by the third scream I could see the cables breaking and people falling. I clung to the net for my life,” the 36-year-old told ThePrint Monday.

He added: “I saw several children and women falling into the water.”

At least 141 people have been reported dead in a suspension cable bridge collapse in Morbi Sunday, while several others are believed missing.

Over 500 personnel from the Indian Army, Indian Navy, Air Force, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force, Indian Coast Guard, local police, fire services and other agencies have been involved in the rescue operations, that have been going on for over 17 hours now, said sources in the NDRF.

Soon after the accident was reported, teams from the state department reached the location and three teams of NDRF were airlifted from Baroda and Gandhi Nagar to Morbi, the sources added.

“Over 110 personnel were pressed into action and the water body was divided into parts for each team to carry out searches,” director general, NDRF, Atul Karwal told ThePrint.

But the dirty water — filled with debris and sewage — low visibility and the heavy remains of the bridge in the water are making the rescue operation a challenge.

Kanwal added: “Initial challenge was that it was completely dark, but the area lit up with flood lights, search and lights, but since the water is contaminated, it is opaque with no visibility, which is a bigger challenge. Moreover, the water is stagnated.”

According to defence sources following the bridge collapse, an Army team from an artillery brigade posted near Dhrangadhra, which included doctors and paramedical staff, reached the accident site to take part in rescue and relief operations. Another Army team, including doctors and relief material, was also sent later.

“The NDRF team was flown on IAF planes and helicopters were put on standby, in Jamnagar and other nearby locations, for the rescue operations. Garud commandos of the IAF were sent from Bhuj and other locations for Morbi,” said a defence source.

The source added: “Three Indian Coast Guard teams, consisting of divers, equipment, and boats were immediately sent, as the news of the incident came in.”

The cable bridge, which had been undergoing renovations for about seven months, had been inaugurated earlier this month, said police personnel posted at the spot. According to those present on the scene, access to the bridge is ticketed — Rs 17 per head for adults and Rs 12 for children.

Between 500 and 600 people, including women and children, are believed to have been on the bridge when it collapsed Sunday.

Gujarat minister of home, Harsh Sanghavi, who visited the spot Monday told the media that a first information report (FIR) had been registered under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (intentional act causing death) and 114 (abettor present when offence committed).

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‘Why were so many people permitted on the bridge’

A 28-year-old father of two, told ThePrint how the kids missed the collapse by a hair’s breadth. His three-year-old son and five-and-a-half-year-old daughter had just stepped off the bridge when the cable broke.

“It’s clearly the fault of the authorities. Why were so many people permitted on the bridge at the same time? Of course, people will keep coming if they are not stopped. The cable simply snapped,” he said.

A 25-year-old man, who had been on the bridge at the time of the collapse along with two friends, did not survive the mishap. His body was pulled of the out water around 1.30 am.

Survivors at the hospital | Photo: Soniya Agrawal | ThePrint
Survivors at the hospital | Photo: Soniya Agrawal | ThePrint

“His two friends were in the water for about an hour before they were rescued. None of them could swim. The surviving friends had to be given chest compressions and CPR to resuscitate them,” said Bharat Bhai Patel, a relative of the deceased.

District collector Rajkot, Arun Mahesh Babu, who is in charge of the rescue operations, told ThePrint that bodies of 78 adults and 56 children have been recovered so far.

“Most of the rescue work that happened in the early hours was successful. After sunrise the growth in the water (like weeds) and the murky nature of the water have led to problems,” he said.

’50 more bodies still in the water’

Meanwhile, a team of nine scuba divers working to recover bodies and find survivors, if any. But because of low visibility inside the water, the operation is taking longer than expected, a source from the NDRF operations team said.

“The depth of the water is about 15 feet and the area of search is 200 meters. The divers are unable to see inside the water, which is why the operation is taking longer than expected. If the water was clear, it would take less time, but it is all sewage,” the NDRF source said.

The source added: “Moreover, the divers are also lifting the debris of the collapsed bridge to see if there is someone stuck under it. Over 170 people were rescued late at night, but none of them were alive.”

According to sources over 50 more bodies are believed to be still inside the water. Most of the bodies found so far were of children aged between 5-15 years, said K.K. Vishnu, director of the state fire and emergency services.

A member of the nursing staff at the Civil Hospital in Morbi too confirmed the high death toll among children.

“Since the depth of the river was between 15-20 feet, children obviously could not survive. The rescue teams came in an hour or so, but by then they had already drowned and most of the children we have received here have died by drowning,” said the staff member.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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