deshjanata desk report:
The 755-foot-long pedestrian bridge, built during the Victorian era, had long been a tourist attraction, and it was packed as the sun set Sunday and the intense heat eased. As countless others had done before them, some on the span spread their arms across its 4-foot width, grabbing the green netting on either side and making the bridge shimmy from side to side.
Then, suddenly, the cables snapped, and the bridge spilled its human cargo into the river, like a fishing net releasing its catch. Once in the dark water, some tried to swim to the fallen structure and climb up its tangled netting. Others were swept away.
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The regional police chief, Ashok Yadav, said Monday morning that at least 140 people had been killed, but later revised that number to 134. He gave no reason for the new number. Many of the victims were schoolchildren on vacation during the Diwali holiday and migrant workers celebrating a Hindu festival, leaving India to ask once again why its infrastructure keeps failing so calamitously.
Yadav said a police case had been filed, and nine people — including two company managers, two ticket takers, two bridge repairmen and three security guards — had been arrested on charges of attempting to commit culpable homicide and of causing death by negligence.
On Monday, platoons of disaster response workers and members of India’s armed forces combed the fast-moving river in small boats, paddling through the mangroves next to the riverbanks, searching for the missing. In the afternoon, Indian navy rescue divers were still looking for victims 12 hours after the last body had been recovered.
“The scene is rotating in my head, bodies lying here and there, being taken out, everyone shouting, ‘Save me, save me, save me,’” one survivor, Mahesh Bhai, told a TV reporter from his hospital bed. He was among the dozens of people who had been injured in the collapse but had survived. More than 180 people were rescued in all.
The colonial-era bridge is among a collection of attractions in the quaint town of Morbi, whose ceramic tile industry draws workers from across India. It was a favorite meeting place for young lovers to escape parents’ prying eyes, said Devyesh Pithva, who a decade ago met the woman who became his wife on the bridge. He had visited the structure Friday, and, out of a sense of poignancy, returned to the site of the disaster Monday.
In March, the bridge’s operations were awarded to Ajanta Manufacturing, a local clock and electronics manufacturer.
Ajanta’s founder, Odhavaji Patel, was known in India as the “father of wall clocks.” The company he ran before his death also makes light bulbs and toothpaste. What is unclear from business records is whether Ajanta had any experience operating bridges before taking over the one in Morbi.
After winning the contract, Ajanta, which also goes by the name Oreva Group, managed seven months of repairs on the bridge, which had been in poor condition. The structure reopened four days before the disaster, timed to coincide with the Gujarati New Year on Oct. 26.
When Pithva visited the bridge Friday, two days before the disaster, he said, there were as many as 500 people crowded onto it. He waited 20 minutes for a clearing to take a photograph with his family.
“You could actually hear people breathing, it was so tight,” Pithva said. “I have an emotional bond with this bridge, and when I heard the news, I felt like I was going down with my family.”
On Monday, scrutiny turned to how Ajanta had won the contract, and to whether the company had ties to the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which has governed Gujarat for more than two decades and which also controls the national government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The New York Times