In India, many questions are being raised after a pedestrian bridge collapsed. This plunged scores of people into a river in Gujarat’s western state.
Morbi’s horror on Sunday night was one of the most tragic tragedies in India in years. 135 people were killed, mostly women and children.
Five days after repairs, the suspension bridge that was 137 years old had been reopened. So what went wrong?
To piece together the story of tragic events, BBC interviewed survivors, first responders and local journalists.
Journalists and residents blame the company that operated the bridge. The police and local authorities are also being accused.
Mahesh Chavda, along with two friends, bought tickets for Sunday at 18:30 GMT (13:00 GMT). They then stepped onto Morbi’s swinging ‘jhultopul’ (hanging bridge) shortly after.
The state’s tourism website describes it as a “technological wonder” and is very popular with tourists. It has been Mahesh’s favorite place to visit since he was a kid.
The structure, which spans the Machchu River and measures 230m (754ft), connects Darbargarh Palace with Lakhdhirji Engineer College. Although the exact date of its construction is not known, locals believe it was built by Waghji Thakore, a local Maharaja.
Mahesh says, “I used to go there with my parents, and for the last few years, I went there every Sunday with my friend.”
He was “excited” to hear that the bridge had been reopened last week. The 18-year old and his friends decided to continue their Sunday night routine.
Mahesh, who was lying on his hospital bed, with plaster around his neck and plaster all over his neck, told me that they could see the bridge as they approached it.
“So we thought that we would wait, but the ticket inspector said we needed to go. He said that the bridge fell as soon as we stepped on it.
The section where Mahesh was standing with his friends was flipped over, and they were thrown in the river 15m (45ft).
Three teenagers sustained injuries but were able to survive.
However, scores of other people didn’t. The disaster also claimed the lives of many families whose members were killed as they walked along the riverbanks.
Many are asking themselves how such a tragedy could occur and why it wasn’t prevented.
To coincide with the Gujarati new years, the bridge was opened to the public on Wednesday.
Jaysukh Bhai Patel (Oreva group) told a press conference that the renovations had cost 20 million rupees ($242,000; PS211 200)
Police have taken nine people into custody in connection with Oreva since Sunday’s accident. These include two managers, two ticket clerks and two ticket clerks who were on the payroll of Oreva, along with two contractors and three security personnel it had hired.
They are being investigated on suspicion of culpable murder.
HS Panchal, the public prosecutor, stated that two contractors were given fabrication work by the company.
He said that the contractors were still given the repair of the bridge in 2007 as well as 2022, and that further investigation was underway.
The court presented a forensic report by the investigating officer that stated that the bridge’s flooring was replaced during renovation, but that its cables were not. Furthermore, the cables could not support the new flooring.
Oreva has been contacted by the BBC to respond to the allegations.
The prosecutor stated that one of the defendants, a company manager, called the collapse of the bridge an “act by God”.
Oreva was also accused of other violations, including not securing permission from authorities to operate the bridge.
Sandipsinh Zla, chief of local municipalities, told reporters Monday that Oreva hadn’t been issued a safety certificate prior to reopening the facility.
Although Mr Zala didn’t answer our calls or return our messages, an assistant in his office informed me that Oreva had originally won a contract to lease a bridge from the district administration back in 2008.
The assistant said, “Mr Zala just renewed that contract in march.”
The BBC has received a copy the agreement, which is valid for 15 year – up to March 2037.
The firm is responsible for the security and maintenance of the tickets.
The document states that the firm was allowed to charge tickets at 15 rupees per adult and 12 rupees per child, but it was charging a premium for each ticket of 2 rupees.
Authorities promised an in-depth investigation and set up a special investigation team to investigate the causes of the catastrophe.
According to Morbi, the cause of the collapse was the sheer volume of people allowed on the bridge simultaneously.
Many people believe that the bridge should have held 100-150 people, but eyewitnesses claim that it had more than 500.
Pravin Vyas is a senior journalist who has lived in Morbi for many years and says that he’s never seen the bridge so packed.
“Since it was Sunday and the end of the week-long Diwali vacation, both locals and tourists were there in large numbers,” he said. He said that many were happy to celebrate after two years of Covid-19 restriction.
“It is the responsibility of the management to determine how many people are allowed on the bridge at any given time. He said that it is in their best interest to permit more people as entry is ticketed.
Vyas claims that the police and the town administration are also to blame.
“Thousands of people visited the bridge each day since its reopening, so authorities can’t claim they didn’t know it existed because Oreva didn’t ask permission.”
Critics question how a region that draws thousands of tourists and locals every day could have safety measures in place to handle an emergency.
They asked why there weren’t any police officers nearby, divers, or boats.
According to the district administration, the company was responsible for ensuring safety for visitors.
Additional District Magistrate NK Manyhar said he was proud about how fast they responded to the crisis, and the huge rescue operation that they launched, which had saved many lives.
He said, “We had divers, swimmers and ropes on the ground in less than 10 minutes.”
However, many people point out that the death toll would be much higher if it weren’t for the first responders, who also included locals and a group from nearby laborers who built a new temple along the riverbanks.
Niranjan Das, who had just completed his day at the temple site, was sitting with his coworkers on the bridge watching as the sun set over the town.
He says, “We saw people holding onto the bits of bridge.”
He and seven colleagues were lowered into the water by ropes from the construction site.
“We saved eight lives and pulled out dozens more bodies.”
He points out injuries to the feet and hands of a colleague who was also involved in the rescue.
Parbat Govind (a 61-year old man who moved to Morbi in 2002 and oversees the workers) was also present at the temple and witnessed the tragedy unfold.