In one of the country’s biggest tragedies in years, at least 141 people have died, and many were injured in western India on Sunday evening when a suspension bridge collapsed.
Surveillance video moments before the tragedy showed a group of young men taking photos on the overcrowded bridge while others rocked it from side to side. Moments later, they all tumbled more than 30 feet into the Machchhu River below as the cables snapped.
The bridge gave way because it could not handle the number of people on it, according to officials. The exact number of people who were on the bridge at the time of the accident is still unknown, however.
While 177 people have been pulled from the river so far, officials worry that the death toll may continue to rise. Teams from the army, navy, and air force are continuing their search efforts, according to Jigar Khunt, an information department official in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
The bridge was located in the state’s Morbi district and run by a local company, Ajanta Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd., also known as the Oreva Group, which specializes in making clocks, mosquito racquets, and electric bikes. Ajanta had been awarded a 15-year contract to manage and maintain the bridge by the state government.
According to local news reports, the company reopened the bridge on October 26 — the first day of the Gujarati New Year — which drew many visitors to the attraction. However, Sandeepsinh Zala, a Morbi city official, has since accused the company of doing so without first obtaining a “fitness certificate” that would have declared that the bridge was fit for public use.
While this claim has not yet been verified, the state government has reportedly formed a special team to investigate the incident.
In the meantime, Gujarat police arrested nine people on Monday in connection to the disaster, including Ajanta managers, ticket clerks, and three security guards. Charges include suspected culpable homicide, attempted culpable homicide, and other violations.
“We won’t let the guilty get away,” said Inspector-General Ashok Yadav. “We won’t spare anyone.”
Authorities believe the bridge collapsed due to the weight of the hundreds of people standing upon it. According to survivors, it was so densely packed that people could not flee when its wires began to snap.
Sidik Bai, 27, was in a hospital bed in Morbi recovering from injuries when he spoke to local news outlets. “There were just too many people on the bridge. We could barely move. Everyone was crying for help, but one by one, they all began disappearing in the water,” he said.
On Tuesday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the site of the accident and announced compensation to the victims’ families. Modi served as Gujarat’s highest elected official for 12 years until becoming India’s prime minister in 2014.