Modi seeks detailed inquiry as India bridge toll rises to 135

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By Shivam Patel and Sumit Khanna

MORBI, India (Reuters) -Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said lessons must be learned as he visited the site of a bridge collapse that killed 135 people and met some of the injured in hospital on Tuesday.

Army, navy and national disaster response force teams continued their search while locals gathered on the banks of the Machchhu river in Modi's home state of Gujarat.

The colonial-era suspension foot bridge in Morbi was packed with sightseers - many in town to celebrate the Diwali and Chhath Puja festivals - when it gave way on Sunday evening, sending people plunging about 10 metres (33 feet) into the water.

A senior police official told Reuters that about 200 people were on the bridge when it collapsed. Local municipality officials said tickets for about 400 people had been sold, although not necessarily to be on the bridge at the same time.

"The prime minister said the need of the hour is to conduct a detailed and extensive inquiry which will identify all aspects relating to this mishap," Modi's office said in a statement as he saw the scene of the disaster.

"He also added that the key learnings from the inquiry must be implemented at the earliest."

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, from the Congress party, said earlier he refused to politicise the incident, but in the capital New Delhi dozens of protesters demanded the resignation of the Gujarat state chief and called for more compensation.

"The country is angry today that around 150 people have died in Morbi but this government did nothing apart from shedding crocodile tears," an unidentified protester shouted. Police detained the crowd within minutes.

The protesters called for compensation of 2 million rupees ($24,000) for all victims - the injured and the families of those killed. So far the state and central governments have offered 600,000 rupees ($7,000) for the kin of those who lost their lives.

Local residents at the scene on Tuesday told Reuters they feared the death toll could rise further.

GT Pandya, a senior administrative official in Morbi, said a person who was injured had died from their injuries on Tuesday, taking the toll to 135. One person was still missing according to the authorities' estimate, he said.

Some 56 people have been discharged from the hospital, while 10 are still admitted with injuries, senior police official Ashok Kumar Yadav told Reuters.

The bridge - 233 metres in length and 1.25 metres wide - was originally built in 1877 and had been closed for six months for repairs until last week.

CCTV footage of the incident showed a group of young men trying to rock the bridge from side to side while others took the photos before they tumbled into the river below as the cables gave way.

Police arrested nine people on Monday on charges including culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Those arrested included ticketing clerks accused of letting too many people onto the bridge and contractors that had been in charge of repair work.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping were the latest to send condolences for the loss of lives, many of whom were children.

($1 = 82.5170 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Shivam Patel and Sumit Khanna; Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Jacqueline Wong and Alison Williams)