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The suspension bridge -- 200 km from Ahmedabad -- collapsed at 6.42 this evening when around 500 people had congregated on it to perform some rituals in connection with the Chhath puja. .
According to reports, around 100 people are still feared trapped in the waters of the Macchu river. Videos from the spot showed many struggling in the water, trying to reach the bank in the dark. Many of the dead are women and children, locals say. Seventy people have been rescued and admitted in hospital.
The rescue work will run late into night, with five teams of National Disaster Response Force or NDRF reaching the spot. The army, navy and air force have also been pressed into action. A medical team is also stationed at the spot. But the work is being hampered by the absence of light, officials said.
The cable bridge in Morbi -- nearly 150 years old and a popular tourist spot -- was closed for seven months for renovation. It was reopened to the public on October 26, the Gujarati New Year. There was a Rs 17 ticket to access the bridge.
"Renovation happened last week. We are also shocked. We are looking into the matter… The government takes responsibility for this tragedy," Brijesh Merja, Gujarat's minister for Labour and Employment, told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
Morbi municipal agency chief Sandipsinh Zala told NDTV that a private trust named Oreva, which renovated the bridge through a government tender, did not take a fitness certificate from the authorities before the reopening. "Oreva group was supposed to give its renovation details and get a quality check before opening the bridge. But it did not do so. The government was not aware about this," Mr Zala said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Gujarat, tweeted, "I am deeply saddened by the tragedy at Morbi. Talked to Gujarat Chief Minister Shri @Bhupendrapbjp and other officials about this. Relief and rescue operations are going on in full swing and all necessary assistance is being provided to the affected".
With the bridge collapse coming ahead of the assembly elections in the state, the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party have blamed the BJP for the tragedy. The Congress has demanded an investigation.
The focus right now needs to be on relief and rescue but a probe is required and accountability needs to be fixed, said AAP's Atishi. "Gujarat has just recovered from the hooch tragedy in which over 100 (people) died and now this. The Gujarat government has to answer," she added.
The state government will provide Rs 4 lakh to each family that has lost a loved one. Rs 50,000 will be given to each injured person, tweeted Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel. An ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh has been announced from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund for the families of the victims.
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