Videos from the scene showed a crowd snapping smartphone photos from the crowded bridge on Sunday evening when it began to sway violently before collapsing. Some officials estimated up to 400 people were packed onto the bridge — far more than the safe limit — when the suspension cables buckled and the 760-foot span gave away.
Faruk Aadam Sandhi, who lives in Morbi and lost his 18-year old cousin Riyaz Rehman Bhatti in the accident, arrived at the scene 10 minutes after the bridge collapsed. Some visitors were still clinging onto the crumpled bridge barely above the waterline, crying out for rescue. Others crawled along its railings back to shore. More were lost in the water.
“It was chaos,” Sandhi said.
After hearing his cousin died in the plunge but his friend Iqbal survived, Sandhi rushed to the hospital. There, he said, corpses were laid in nearly every corner of free space while hundreds of relatives like him went from room to room, looking to claim the bodies of their loved ones. In a 10 foot-by-10-foot room used for postmortems, doctors were “overwhelmed,” Sandhi said.
As rescue operations continued Monday, with the Indian military deploying navy divers to look for bodies, scrutiny turned to the company tasked with renovating and operating the bridge. The contractor, Oreva, a large manufacturer known for producing clocks and electric bikes, wrapped up a six-month renovation of the bridge on Friday, just in time for Gujarati New Year. It reopened to tourists without first obtaining clearance from the government, city official Sandeepsinh Zala told the Indian Express.
Zala also criticized the bridge operators for selling as many tickets as it could without controlling the flow of people.
After a day of investigation, local police arrested nine people, including two Oreva executives, two contractors, three security guards and two ticket window clerks, a Morbi police official said late Monday. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
In its initial legal complaint, local police did not name Oreva or any other firm, but said it would file culpable homicide charges against “the agency responsible for maintaining the bridge” and the “management agency.” A charge of culpable homicide falls short of murder and is similar to manslaughter in the U.S. legal system.
A spokesperson for Oreva said it appeared that “the bridge collapsed as too many people in the midsection of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” according to the Indian Express.
It’s unclear why the company, which specializes in manufacturing wall clocks, electric bikes and ceramic products, was contracted to operate the bridge. The company could not be reached for comment on Monday, and local media reported that its offices were deserted.
In India, a string of public safety accidents have been blamed on shoddy construction. In 2019, a footbridge near Mumbai’s historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Terminus building buckled, killing 6. In 2011, more than 30 festivalgoers died when a bridge near the Himalayan hill town of Darjeeling collapsed.
The bridge, highlighted on Gujarat’s official tourism website, is almost a century old and remains popular with tourists. It was built by a Gujarati prince who was fascinated with construction. Waghji Thakor built railways, ports, temples and the bridge, which was meant to be a technological showcase connecting two of his palaces.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy and said he had sought “urgent mobilisation” of rescue teams to the disaster zone, which was bustling with mainly women and children shortly before the tragedy. He was set to visit the site on Tuesday.
Mahesh Langa in Ahmedabad, Shams Irfan in Srinagar, Anant Gupta in New Delhi and Jennifer Hassan in London contributed to this report.