From: Reuters
Published December 26, 2007 02:29 AM

Nepal resumes search for missing in bridge collapse

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Rescuers searched on Wednesday for scores of people missing after a suspension bridge collapsed into a river in west Nepal, killing at least 15 people, mostly women and children, police said.

The iron bridge's pillars gave way on Tuesday under the weight of between 400 and 500 pedestrians crossing the Bheri river on their way to a religious festival, officials said.

Many survivors were pulled out of the river by army and police rescuers on Tuesday and many others swam to safety after the accident near Chhinchu village, 320 km (200 miles) west of Kathmandu, officials said.

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At least 30 people have been taken to hospital, some with broken bones, they said. Five are in critical condition and have been brought to Kathmandu by army helicopters for treatment.

"Hundreds of army and police search and rescue personnel armed with communication equipment, ropes, life jackets, rubber tubes and sticks, as well as health workers, have been sent to look for survivors," said Bharat Bahadur G.C., the region's top police officer overseeing the search operation.

"We have used loudspeakers and broadcast notices on local FM radio stations informing the villagers to come and report if anyone in their family or neighborhood was missing," he said from Surkhet, the biggest town in the region.

"So far we have received only nine reports and the number could go up."

Some of the 15 bodies found so far were recovered around five km (three miles) downstream, he said.

Madhav Rijal, another police officer, described media reports of hundreds missing as a "wild guess."

"We can't say anything at this point," he said.

Some local newspapers have printed pictures of a portion of the collapsed bridge with part of its huge metal cables submerged into the river.

Suspension bridges over rivers cascading from the Himalayas connect remote villages in the rugged mountainous nation that lacks road networks in the rural areas.

(Editing by Simon Denyer and Jerry Norton)

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