Morbi, India — Nine people were arrested Monday in connection with the collapse of a pedestrian bridge in western India that killed almost 140 people, police said. The nine people arrested — all associated with a company that maintained the bridge in Morbi — were being investigated for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, senior police officer Ashok Kumar Yadav said in a statement.
The bridge, which had reopened only days earlier after months of renovation, collapsed on Sunday evening, sending hundreds tumbling into the river in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Authorities said nearly 500 people were celebrating the last day of the Diwali festival on and around the nearly 150-year-old suspension bridge when supporting cables snapped.
CCTV footage showed the structure swaying — with a few people apparently deliberately rocking it — before it suddenly gave way.
The walkway and one fence crashed into the Machchhu river, leaving the other side dangling in mid-air as people fell into the water in the dark.
“I saw the bridge collapse before my eyes,” said one witness who worked all night on rescue efforts, without giving his name. “It was traumatic when a woman showed me a photo of her daughter and asked if I had rescued her. I could not tell her that her daughter had died.”
Supran, another witness, said the bridge, which was a popular tourist attraction, was “jam-packed.”
“The cables snapped and the bridge came down in a split second. People fell on each other and into the river,” he told local media.
After the collapse, people clung to the twisted remains of the bridge or tried to swim to safety in the dark.
Many Indians cannot swim and another Morbi resident, Ranjanbhai Patel, said he helped pull out those who had been able to reach the banks.
“As most of the people had fallen into the river, we were not able to save them,” he said.
Local police chief P. Dekavadiya said that by Monday afternoon 137 people were confirmed dead. They included around 50 children, the youngest being a two-year-old boy. Ashok Yadav, a regional police inspector general, had earlier said 141 deaths were confirmed, but he later revised the toll down.
One local MP, Kalyanji Kundariya, told media he had lost 12 family members in the accident, including five children.
Authorities launched a rescue operation immediately following the collapse, with boats and divers searching the river all night and throughout Monday.
The bridge, 764 feet long and about five feet wide, was inaugurated in 1880 by British colonial authorities and made with materials shipped from England, reports said.
The Gujarat tourist department describes the “grand suspension bridge” about 120 miles west of the state’s main city, Ahmedabad, as an “artistic and technological marvel.”
Sandeepsinh Jhala, Morbi municipality’s chief officer, said the bridge had not been issued a safety certificate after the recent repair work.
Reports named the firm that carried out the repairs as a unit of the Gujarat-based Oreva group, which describes itself as the world’s largest clock manufacturer, and also makes lighting products and e-bikes. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.
Modi, who was due to visit the site on Tuesday, said that he “may rarely have experienced so much pain in my life.”
President Biden offered he and first lady Jill Biden’s “deepest condolences” in a tweet on Monday. The American leader said he and his wife “join the people of Gujarat in mourning the loss of too many lives cut short,” and pledged to “continue to stand with and support the Indian people.”
Moscow and New Delhi have enjoyed close relations for decades and the Kremlin said in a statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he was “deeply saddened” while Nepal, Bhutan, Britain and France also sent messages of support.
Accidents from old and poorly maintained infrastructure, including bridges, are common in India.
In 2016, the collapse of a flyover onto a busy street in Kolkata killed at least 26 people.
Five years earlier, at least 32 people perished when a packed bridge collapsed in the hill resort of Darjeeling.