Ahmedabad: Broken corroded wires, improper welding and changes to the walking surface of a 145-year-old hanging bridge in India contributed to its collapse last year that killed 135 people, an investigation has found.
The colonial-era suspension bridge in the town of Morbi in the western state of Gujarat was packed with sightseers when it collapsed on Oct. 30, plunging hundreds into the Machchhu river. It had reopened just days before, following months of repairs.
A five-member special investigation team, formed by the state government, found that the main cables were not inspected or replaced, no load test or structural test was conducted before opening the bridge and far more people were present on the bridge during the incident than its capacity.
“Main cable of the upstream side was found broken on one side,” according to a preliminary investigation report seen by Reuters.
“Out of the 49 wires of the main cable, 22 were corroded which indicates that those wires may be already broken before the incident. The remaining 27 wires recently broke.”
The bridge – 233 metres in length and 1.25 metres wide – had been closed for more than seven months for repairs until the week of the deadly collapse.
CCTV footage showed a group of young men taking photos while others tried to rock the bridge from side to side in the moments before the cables snapped and they plunged from the narrow walkway.
Sandeepsinh Zala, Morbi’s municipal chief at the time of the collapse, was suspended by the state in November while police last month arrested Jaysukh Patel, the managing director of the Oreva Group, which had been given the contract for repairing and operating the structure.
The Oreva Group did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
The report said the renovated deck on the bridge was incorrectly joined by welding old suspenders with new ones, while wooden planks were replaced by aluminium sheets.
“If there were individual wooden planks instead of an aluminium deck, then due to its flexible behaviour, the number of casualties could have been less,” the report said, adding that the main cables and suspenders had not been tested during renovation.
The report said Zala did not act as per law in signing the agreement with Oreva, which is best known for making clocks and electrical products. The report blamed Oreva for unrestricted access to the bridge for people and insufficient security arrangements.
“Repair work was carried out without consulting competent technical experts. The company outsourced the repair works to a non-competent agency,” it said.
Zala declined to comment because the matter was in court.
(Additional reporting by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Louise Heavens)