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Officials investigate bridge collapse in India as divers rake river

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MORBI, India – Divers scoured a river in western India on Wednesday to ensure no bodies were left behind after a recently repaired suspension bridge collapsed, as Authorities are investigating what led to the tragedy that killed at least 135 people.

The 143-year-old pedestrian bridge collapsed on Sunday night, sending hundreds plunging into the waters of the Machchu River in the town of Morbi in Gujarat state. As rescuers continue to search through the deep, muddy waters, questions have swirled about why the bridge collapsed and who might be responsible. The bridge, built during British colonialism and touted by the state’s tourism website as an “artistic and technological marvel”, had reopened just four days earlier.

As of Tuesday evening, 196 people had been rescued and the 10 injured were in stable condition. Officials said no one was missing according to their count, but emergency responders and divers continued their search efforts.

“We want to be on the side of caution,” said Inspector General of Police Ashok Yadav.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at the site on Tuesday to inspect the collapsed bridge and visit the injured in a hospital. He also chaired a meeting with officials and called for a detailed investigation into what went wrong.

Police have so far arrested nine people, including officials from bridge operator Oreva Group. State authorities have also opened a case against Oreva for alleged culpable homicide, attempted culpable homicide and other violations, and a special investigative team has opened an investigation into the incident.

A police spokesman said a first information report, the preliminary formal stage of an investigation, said the accident happened due to faulty construction or construction-related reasons. maintenance in addition to the negligence and inattention of the operators of the bridge.

The agency rushed to open the bridge for public use despite knowing its “ruthless approach” to its upkeep and management could lead to an accident, according to the police report.

Yadav, the police officer, said authorities would take “strict action” against those found guilty. “We collect scientific and technical evidence,” he said.

As families mourn the dead, attention has turned to the quality of renovation and repair work carried out by Oreva, a group of companies known primarily for making clocks, mosquito zappers and bicycles. electrical.

On Tuesday evening, prosecutors told a local court that the contractors who oversaw the repair work were unqualified, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Citing a forensic report, the prosecution said that although the deck’s floor had been replaced, its cable was not and therefore could not support the weight of the new floor, causing the cable to break. .

In March, the town hall of Morbi awarded Oreva a 15-year contract for the maintenance and management of the bridge. The same month, Oreva closes the bridge for seven months for repairs.

The bridge, which spans a wide section of the Machchu River, has been repaired several times in the past and many of its original parts have been replaced over the years. It was reopened on October 26, the first day of the Gujarati New Year, which coincides with the Hindu festival season. Hundreds of tourists paid some 17 Indian rupees, or about 20 cents, to enter, according to local media.

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

Security video of the disaster showed it shaking violently and people trying to cling to its cables and metal fencing before the aluminum gangway gave way and crashed into the river. The bridge split in the middle with its dangling walkway and broken cables.

It is unknown how many people were on the bridge when it collapsed. Survivors said it was so dense that people could not escape quickly when the cables began to snap.

Modi was Gujarat’s highest elected official for 12 years before becoming India’s prime minister in 2014. A Gujarat state government election is due in the coming months and opposition parties have demanded a full investigation about the accident.

India’s infrastructure has long been blighted by security issues, 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 in one of India’s biggest dam failures.

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

Associated Press reporter Ajit Solanki contributed.

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