Darjeeling, Oct. 22: A bridge packed with a festival crowd caved in near Darjeeling town this evening, killing at least 27 people when the wooden walkway tumbled 150ft into a swift-flowing river.

Police sources said nearly 80 people were injured in the 7pm collapse in Bijanbari, about 40km from Darjeeling town.

Most of those on the bridge — suspended by steel cables over the Little Rangit — were Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters who had gathered for a cultural program organized by the outfit as part of its five-day festival in the hills. Today was the festival’s last day.

Darjeeling district magistrate Saumitra Mohan said at least 27 people were killed in the collapse. “We have reports that some of the casualties were taken away by villagers from the incident site.”

Mohan, who reached the spot, added that efforts were on to send the injured to the Darjeeling district hospital.

Police sources said the darkness was hampering rescue and efforts were on to set up floodlights. “There is considerable water in the swift-flowing river and we fear that some of the victims could have been swept away by the current. The terrain is also very difficult,” said a senior police officer on the spot.

Sources in the district administration said the bridge, about 80ft long and 6ft wide, was built by the Darjeeling zilla parishad in 1972.

Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said party volunteers were helping the police to rescue the injured.

“Our party president, Bimal Gurung, and I had visited Bijanbari this morning…. In the evening there was a large crowd, mostly local residents and those from nearby Darjeeling Tea plantations of Chunthung, Marybong and Linga, who had gathered to witness the cultural programs and the mela on the other side of the bridge,” Giri said.

In Calcutta, chief minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters she had asked north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb and Siliguri MLA Rudranath Bhattacharya to rush to Darjeeling.

Mamata, who is expected to leave for Darjeeling tomorrow, said the Bengal government would do all it could to stand by those affected “during this tragic hour” and bear all medical expenses.

Survivor Nirmal Chhetri, a driver, recalled the horror from his bed in Darjeeling district hospital. “There was a loud sound and I saw the bridge collapsing. I fell and cannot remember what happened after that.”

Source: Telegraph