Gujarat: One Family Lost 12 Members in Morbi Bridge Collapse

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CNN Report

MORBI, GUJARAT — A marigold garland hangs across a photo frame with the faces of 12 members of the Bodha family who died when a bridge collapsed beneath them during a family outing in Gujarat, eastern India.

“There have been a lot of deaths,” said grandfather Sundarji Bodha, from his home in the small town of Morbi that’s mourning 135 people who died in the October 30 tragedy.

“I cannot describe the pain and sadness it’s caused,” said Bodha, who lost five grandchildren, four daughters and three sons-in law.

In the days since the tragedy, few answers have emerged as to why the colonial-era suspension bridge appeared to snap, spilling dozens of people into the Machchhu River.

Police investigating the case have suggested the company tasked with maintaining the bridge, Oreva, failed to conduct the appropriate repairs or tests to ensure the bridge was safe for pedestrians.

“They only did electric fittings and painting work,” P. A. Zala, deputy superintendent of Gujarat police, told CNN on Tuesday. “No fitness or capacity test was done by them.”

Oreva did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

But theories about the cause of the disaster offer little comfort to the families of those who died.

“Children are everything,” said Prabhulal Bodha, wearing white to mark a day of mourning for his extended family.

“The children are not here and it is so painful. How will we bear this? We do not know.”

Diwali holidays turn deadly

The suspension bridge has hung across the Machchhu River for as long as anyone can remember.

It was built during British rule around 1900, and attracts tourists who hold thin wire railings for the 230 meter (755 feet) walk from one side to the other.

On Sunday October 30, hundreds of families had crammed onto the bridge, which is just 1.25 meters (4 feet) wide, to celebrate Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights.

Faizan with his father.

Gujarat authorities estimate some 200 people were on the bridge when it collapsed – much more than the capacity allowed, they said.

Among them were eight-year-old Faizan and five-year-old Mahinoor Majothi, who were days away from going back to school after the Diwali holidays.

Their grandmother, Himilaben Khumbhar, was on the bridge with them when it snapped.

“I didn’t realise what was happening until we fell into the water,” she said. “I was swimming and got help from people. My life was saved but my daughter, son-in-law and the children all died.”

Faizan and Mahinoor’s school bags still lie in the corner of the front room – a constant reminder of grief and loss.

“I want that action be taken and all the people responsible should be punished,” said Kumbhar’s relative, Ibrahim Mojothi.

“It is not just me who has lost a family. Scores of people have lost their families … My brother, sister-in-law, nephew, niece are all gone. No one is left.”

Divya Ravardeo was also on the bridge when it collapsed. She recalls people screaming, desperately trying to swim to safety and save their loved ones.

Her niece and nephew – six and four – drowned in the river.

“We are feeling so heartbroken,” she said. “Words cannot describe the pain we are going through. We have so much agony in our hearts. My entire family doesn’t know how to feel about this. We are numb.”

Spotlight turns on electrical manufacturer

Since the deadly incident, public scrutiny has turned to Oreva, a company based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city.

Oreva started out as a clockmaker before diversifying into electronics, according to its website, which describes the firm as the “world’s largest clock manufacturing company” and “one of the major brands in India.”

The bridge was closed for six months of renovations in April, Jaysukhbhai Patel, the managing director of Oreva, told reporters during a reopening ceremony on October 26.

Himilaben Khumbhar and Ibrahim Mojothi sit beside Faizan and Mahinoor’s belongings.

According to a video of the event, Patel said the company had spent close to a quarter of a million dollars renovating the bridge. When asked what renovations had been carried out, Patel said: “The bridge was built using wooden planks. Now, because it’s a hanging bridge, we needed to use new technical specifications and develop new methods to repair it.”

He didn’t go into detail, but told reporters the structure would not need any major work for “eight to 10 years.”

The day after the tragedy, Gujarat police said nine people had been arrested and are being investigated for culpable homicide charges, all of the suspects are associated with Oreva. So far, no charges have been laid.

The suspects include two managers, two ticket clerks, two contractors and three security guards – Patel is not among them. He hasn’t spoken publicly since the tragedy.

Families of the victims will receive compensation from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, but Mojothi said that will never be enough for their pain and suffering.

“All we want is that the people responsible should be punished,” he said.

“There is no use of compensation. We do not want the money. We have no greed for that money, and we don’t want it.”

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