A huge search operation was underway yesterday after hundreds of people went missing and at least 15 died when a crowded bridge collapsed in Nepal, officials said.
Nearly 400 people were on the bridge across a gorge over the Bheri river, 380km west of the capital, Katmandu, when it collapsed on Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
Scores of people were also hurt in the disaster.
"The rescue operations began early on Wednesday morning. Around 450 police and soldiers have been deployed to scour the river banks from three locations," district administrator Anil Kumar Pandey said by phone.
The bridge, made of metal and steel coils with a 500m span, plunged into the gorge after a catastrophic failure of one of the supporting pillars that rose 50m above the water level.
Despite the search efforts, hopes of finding people still alive appeared remote, officials said.
"The chances of finding survivors look slim," Pandey said.
The bridge was crowded with locals who were heading to a religious ceremony to celebrate the full moon that began on Monday.
Around 40 people, mostly women and children, who were rescued from the site, were treated in hospitals in nearby towns, the official said.
Pandey said that "some of the seriously wounded have been airlifted to Katmandu for further treatment."
The site where the bridge fell into the river is estimated to be around 25m deep, he said.
Officials fear many people may have been swept downstream into remote areas of the mainly agricultural countryside that surrounds the Bheri, one of Nepal's largest rivers.
But as many as 100 people reportedly managed to swim to safety with the river at low winter season flow.
Nepal has hundreds of small bridges in the rugged countryside that range from rope or wooden planks to steel and concrete. The country is cut by dozens of rivers across one of the steepest topographies in the world.
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