Rescuers searched Wednesday for more than 100 people missing and feared dead after a steel footbridge collapsed in remote western Nepal, sending scores plunging into icy Himalayan waters. At least 15 people were killed, officials said.
Troops rushed to the area to assist with search and rescue operations following the collapse Tuesday.
The search was to resume at daybreak Wednesday following a temporary halt overnight, but hopes of finding more survivors in the treacherous mountain river were slim, said Anil Pandey, the top government official in the area.
Authorities believe some 500 people traveling to a village fair were crossing the Bheri River on the bridge in Chunchu when its support cables snapped under the weight, said Pandey.
“Some of them managed to climb to safety, some fell on the banks, but the ones who plunged in the river are the ones who are still missing,” he said.
Crowds gathered on both sides of the river, trying to save the victims and treating the wounded. Some who had fallen used the fallen bridge’s cables to haul themselves out of the water.
Rescuers had recovered 15 bodies by nightfall, and 32 people who were seriously injured were flown to hospitals, said Dipendra Chetri, a police official who helped with rescue operations.
Dozens more with light injuries were treated at the scene and allowed to return home.
Pandey refused to give a number for the missing, saying the scene was still chaotic and that nearby villages had not yet sent missing person reports.
“It is hard to say how many people are missing but the best estimate I can say is more than 100 people could be missing,” said Purushottam Khatri, another police officer.
Chunchu is located about 500 kilometres west of Katmandu in a remote part of Nepal where there are few paved roads. Most people travel by foot or bullock-pulled cart.
Much of the impoverished region’s infrastructure was devastated by a decade-long communist uprising that ended last year. The country’s former Maoist rebels, who controlled much of the area, often blew up bridges and roads to impede government troop movements.
Pandey said the 120-metre long bridge was built this year after a peace deal was clinched with the rebels, but that it was not designed to hold the weight of so many people crossing at once.
The people had been on their way to a fair held every month after the full moon. The fair attracts thousands of people from surrounding villages.
Authorities feared there could be many more casualties because the river has strong currents, adding that victims were likely to be the elderly and children. (AP)