On Sunday, October 30, the Indian town of Morbi was still celebrating Diwali, with its famous pedestrian bridge back in use after closing for repairs. At 6:30 pm, the structure collapsed, sending hundreds of residents and tourists into the Machchhu River below. The incident killed 141 people, over 50 of whom were children. The Home Minister of Gujarat state– where Morbi is located– explained that the incident occurred because “a cable appeared to have snapped.” 

Morbi town and its bridge were built around 1900 when the country lived under British rule. As such, the city’s cobblestone streets and 19th-century European architecture resemble Victorian London. Morbi’s bridge was a common tourist attraction and was named an “artistic and technological marvel” of its time by Gujarat’s tourism website. The structure had been undergoing repairs for months, which were overseen by Gujarat electrical appliance manufacturer Oreva. Its managing director, Jay Sukh Bhai Patel, announced that no repairs would be needed for the next eight to ten years if the bridge was “used responsibly.” 

On the day of the incident, Mahesh Chavda– a Morbi local– and two friends queued for their weekly visit to the bridge. He explained that the bridge looked overcrowded and chose to wait, yet the ticket salesman said they “had to move on.” As the friends did, the floor “flipped over” sending the three of them into the river. All were injured but survived. 

Within ten minutes of the incident, first responders arrived at the scene. National disaster relief teams and the military were brought, while witnesses in the surrounding area helped with boats and ropes. Rescue volunteers including divers, swimmers, and drivers assisted, such as a witness who told CNN he “brought a lot of children to the hospital that night.” Locals explain that they were proud of the speed with which they brought help to the scene. By the following morning, 170 people had been rescued. 

Search and rescue teams working following the collapse, October 30.
Photo by The Times of India.

An investigation is currently underway and nine people have been arrested on charges of culpable homicide. These include managers, ticket salesmen, contractors, and security guards, all of them working for Oreva. The prosecutor on the case deemed the contractors responsible for the work “unqualified,” while locals called into question Oreva’s expertise in bridge building. A forensics report illustrated that the flooring had been changed, but its cables had not been and were unable to withhold the added weight. In addition, police officers report that the cables were “rusted,” with The Times of India further explaining that these had merely been “painted and polished” rather than replaced. Times of India also explains that engineering work had been done by locals without “expert supervision,” and Oreva had not attained the safety certificate needed before reopening. 

An additional issue that occurred on the bridge that day was overcrowding. Mahesh Chavda wanted to wait before walking along the bridge, and other locals explained that it was more crowded than ever before. Reports of the structure’s occupancy at the time of the incident range from 300 to 500, despite its maximum capacity of around 150. Officials were overselling tickets, and doing so at two rupees more per ticket than the allowed amount– 15 for adults and 12 for children. Moreover, a group of men appears to have been shaking the bridge in a video posted to social media, when the bridge suddenly collapsed. 

Oreva has yet to make a statement about the incident. Indian Prime Minister Modi explains his heart is “with the families of those suffering,” and has created a relief fund and established compensation for families of victims.

Featured image by: Stringer/Reuters

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