The death toll in the collapse of a wooden footbridge in Bijanbari area of Darjeeling district rose to 32 on Sunday even as rescue operations came to a close. The victims include 19 women and three children.
Over 116 persons were injured in the tragedy that occurred on Saturday evening. They have been admitted to different hospitals and nursing homes in the district.
The bridge collapsed under the weight of the hundreds who had gathered on it on the concluding day of a five-day cultural festival organised by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM). GJM president Bimal Gurung and other senior leaders were present on the occasion.
Army personnel and the State's forest department assisted in the search and rescue operations that continued till the early hours of Sunday. They were resumed for a final check later in the day. None is reported missing, Superintendent of Police Anand Kumar told The Hindu over telephone from Darjeeling.
Sniffer dogs and additional forces, which included a disaster management team from here, were used in the search operations on Sunday.
The State government has announced a financial assistance of Rs. 2 lakh to the next of kin of those who died. A compensation of Rs. 50,000 will be given to those seriously injured and Rs. 25,000 to those with minor injuries. The State will bear the medical expenses of the victims.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited those admitted in the North Bengal Medical College near Siliguri as well as the Darjeeling district hospital in the hill town. She was accompanied by Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi and Union Minister of State for Health Sudip Bandopadhyay, among others.
Ms. Banerjee described the incident as “extremely unfortunate” and expressed her condolences to the families of the victims. She assured them all help from her government.
West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan, who has been in Darjeeling for the past few days, expressed his “deep shock” over the “tragic incident.” A statement issued by the Governor's Secretariat at the Raj Bhavan here said Mr. Narayanan was “satisfied that the administration is taking all possible steps to provide assistance.”
Minister for North Bengal Development Gautam Deb told journalists that he would file a report on the incident in two days.
The GJM president visited the site on Sunday morning accompanied by his party colleagues, who were critical of the authorities' failure to ensure the upkeep of the bridge over the past few years.
“The bridge was last reconstructed in 1970 and since then, there has hardly been any maintenance. It has weakened over time,” GJM general secretary Roshan Giri told The Hindu over telephone.
Mr. Pradhan said the bridge, about 250 feet long and nearly 70 feet above the Little Rangeet River, was a vital link to the Chungthung tea garden and the Marybong and Linga tea gardens further away. Several pedestrians used the bridge everyday.
Built in 1955
The bridge was first built in 1955. But it suffered huge damage in landslips in 1968, and was rebuilt in 1970. Since then, for several years, no one did anything, said Harka Bahadur Chettri, senior GJM leader and Kalimpong MLA.
Mr. Deb said there were more than 100 such wooden hanging bridges in Darjeeling and Siliguri. He gave an assurance that the government would check their condition and also take measures to replace them with concrete structures.