Illiyas Akbarbhai Pathan remembers dropping off his wife and two children on Sunday evening at the grand Jhulta Pul, or the Swinging Bridge, in India’s Gujarat state, where he drives an autorickshaw for a living.
Pathan, 33, went home as his wife and kids, aged 3 and 6, went sightseeing at the bridge in the city of Morbi with his brother’s family. But shortly after, he got a devastating call: His brother told him the walking bridge had collapsed.
“In just one hour, my whole family was gone,” Pathan told VICE World News. “Just like that. Everything is over.”
His wife and kids did not survive. His brother’s wife and daughter, and a nephew, also died in the fall.
The families are among at least 140 people who died after the famous colonial-era Morbi bridge collapsed, in one of the country’s deadliest incidents in recent memory.
One video shows hundreds of people jumping and running as the narrow bridge swayed vigorously. VICE World News could not confirm whether the video was taken on the same day of the collapse.
Another video, released by officials, shows the last moments of the bridge, where people walked on the bridge as it swayed, until its poles snapped and people fell in the river.
Built in the 19th century, the Morbi bridge was 1.25 metres wide and 230 metres long, and is described by the state tourism board as an “artistic and technological marvel”.
The collapse took place just four days after the bridge went through a seven-month renovation, and while India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was touring the state.
State officials blame the private Indian company Oreva Group, which was responsible for its maintenance, for reopening the bridge without obtaining a safety certificate from the government.
On Monday, the state police registered a complaint against them for “culpable homicide”. Indian news channel NDTV reported that two Oreva Group officials have been arrested. The state government has launched a probe.
Oreva Group did not immediately respond to queries sent by VICE World News. A spokesperson for the company told the Indian Express the bridge appeared to have collapsed because “too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other.”
Officials say that the bridge was carrying nearly 500 people, although its capacity was only 125.
Vijay Goswami, a visitor who got off the bridge before it fell, told reporters the staff on the site didn’t control the crowd.
Goswami said he and his family decided to get off early as some people were shaking the bridge on purpose and they felt it was dangerous. “It was impossible for people to stand without holding any support,” he is quoted as saying. “Since I had a feeling that it may prove dangerous, my family and I came back after covering some distance on the bridge.”
Pathan, who lost his wife and two children in the disaster, is demanding answers. “Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.
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