At Least 15 Dead, Hundreds Missing After Bridge Collapse in West Nepal

A steel footbridge collapsed when its suspension cables snapped in remote western Nepal on Tuesday, sending scores of people into the river below, officials said. At least 15 people were killed and an unknown number were missing and feared dead.

One official said more than 100 could be missing, although there were no precise figures available from the remote, chaotic accident scene.

The Web site, a Nepal news site that published the first photo from the scene, reports the death toll at 13 with up to 70 feared dead.

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The image posted on shows women and children scrambling to grab onto pieces of the span as rescuers try to make their way to the center of the river.

"There were possibly 500 people on the bridge when it collapsed because of the weight. 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," said Anil Pandey, the chief government official in the area.

The 400-foot long bridge was just built this year. It was about 100 feet above the river. Pandey said the bridge was not designed to hold so much weight and the cables snapped.

Initial reports said some people managed to swim to safety unharmed.

By nightfall, rescuers had recovered 15 bodies, while 32 people who were seriously injured were flown to hospitals in more developed parts of the country, said Dipendra Chetri, a police official who helped rescue people in Chunchu, the village where the bridge collapsed.

"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," police official Purushottam Khatri said.

Authorities feared there could be many more casualties because the river has strong currents and is difficult to swim, said Naresh Shakya, another police official in the area. The victims were believed to be on their way to a fair.

The most seriously injured were flown by helicopter to hospitals in more developed parts of the country, while others with less threatening wounds were given first aid at the scene and sent home, officials said.

Complicating the search was Chunchu's remote location about 310 miles west of Katmandu in a rural part of this Himalayan country where there are few paved roads. The most common way of traveling is on foot or in a ox-cart.