Morbi, Gujarat: As the century-old, though just renovated, Morbi bridge in Gujarat gave way and Jamila Ben Shah plunged into the waters, she managed to grab a stray cable and hold tight. But seven of her family members, including children, were swept away.
She clutched that cable till boys from the nearby Makrani Vaas area came to her rescue, with tyre tubes.
“After we fell, we kept hanging from the cable for at least an hour before help arrived,” said the 44-year-old who lost her adult daughter in the tragedy. “This help, too, was from the local boys who could swim, not the fire department or police.”
Account after account of survivors ThePrint spoke to deliver similar evidence — of an administrative failure to deal with a tragedy of such huge proportion. If the administration, including hospitals, had coordinated and acted in time, the survivors say, more lives could have been saved.
As of Monday evening, 141 deaths had been recorded following the collapse of the hanging bridge on Sunday, as per official figures, and 224 people had been rescued.
Gulshan Rathod pulled her still-breathing sons out from a growing pile of dead bodies at the Morbi Civil Hospital. “For hours I couldn’t find my sons. Finally, when I went to the morgue in the hospital and found them lined up along with unclaimed dead bodies. When I saw they were breathing I immediately rushed them to the nearby private hospital,” she says.
Her sons, aged 18 and 20, are the family’s sole breadwinners. “Both of them collectively earned about Rs 15,000, with which we used to run the house. With both of them suffering from spinal injuries, I don’t know what we will eat or how we will pay rent.”
ThePrint reached Morbi Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Ravi Dudhrejiya and Municipal Officer Sandeep Jhala for comments, but had not received responses at the time of publishing the report. The story will be updated once a response is received.
Other local authorities say administration has been putting in all efforts.
In a statement Monday evening, Morbi District Collector G.T. Pandya denied reports that rescue operations had been halted to prepare for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit following the crisis.
K.K. Vishnu, Director of the State Fire and Emergency Department, had told ThePrint earlier that rescue teams reached the spot “within hours of the accident and ran rescue operations all night”, and that 30 boats and multiple teams of divers were searching for survivors.
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‘Everybody was recording videos of us suffering’
Sohail Sheikh, who was on the bridge on that ill-fated day, lost his cousin Alfaz Khan in the tragedy. Had they not visited the bridge that day, they would have celebrated Khan’s 18th birthday on 1 November.
Sheikh said he spotted Khan floating in the water minutes after the bridge collapsed and dragged him ashore. Khan was still breathing but had to wait before he could be taken to the hospital. “The ambulance did not turn up for an hour. We kept calling but nobody came,” he told ThePrint.
Jamila Ben Shah, too, recalled how she lost her family and the endless wait for help. “It felt like the ground from below our feet had simply disappeared. In the chaos I was separated from my family.”
As she clung to the cable, she managed to find and grab her 8-year-old niece for a bit. But the cable was slippery. And in the struggle to hold on, she lost the child. Her 21-year-old daughter, two sisters-in-law, and three other children from her family also drowned.
And although the locals finally rescued her, Shah remembers enduring another horror. “During that one hour, everybody was recording videos of us suffering,” she says. “I have never felt such disgust for other humans before.”
(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)
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