Darjeeling :Twenty people were killed and 55 injured when an overburdened old bridge collapsed in the Bijonbari area of West Bengal’s mountain district of Darjeeling Saturday, Superintendent of Police Anand Kumar said.
The Border Roads Organisation-built bridge gave way around 7 p.m. as over 100 people stood on it to listen to speeches of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leaders like Bimal Gurung holding a meeting in the area.
“It was an old bridge. It was also damaged in the recent earthquake,” said GJM spokesperson and MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri.
GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said many were injured, some seriously, when the wooden bridge collapsed.
“A cultural programme was being held on one side of the bridge while a meeting was being held on the other. Too many people were standing on the bridge when it collapsed and they fell into the river below,” said Giri.
Chhetri feared the casualty figures could go up to 50 or even 60.
North Bengal Development Minister Goutam Deb has already left for the spot on instruction from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The chief minister said the injured were being sent to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital while blood banks had been alerted.
“Ambulances are being rushed. The government will do everything it can,” she said and announced that she would start for the Darjeeling hills immediately, along with Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi and Union Minister of State for Health Sudip Bandopadhyay. “We will try to reach the hills tomorrow.”
Expressing shock at the tragedy, Banerjee said the government would bear the cost of the treatment of the injured.
Compensation will be paid to the next kin of the dead.
Banerjee said she would cancel her programmes to inaugurate community Kali Pujas to be with the people of the hills.
A defence ministry spokesperson said in Kolkata the incident occurred 30 km from Darjeeling.
Forty troops of the Army’s Mountain Brigade have been rushed to the site with medical and nursing officials following a request from the district magistrate.