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Family outing turns to misery with India bridge collapse

Rescue workers search for bodies in the Machchhu river on Tuesday. ©AFP

Morbi (India) (AFP) - Single father Mahesh spent every night of his final weeks cruising the streets of Morbi on his new scooter.

Paid for by years of backbreaking factory work, it was a tangible symbol of his Indian household's upward mobility.Now their future lies in ruins.

On his last joyride Mahesh took his young son and nephew to the town's main tourist attraction, a newly renovated suspension bridge where hundreds had gathered on Sunday evening for the last day of the annual Diwali holiday. 

By the following morning, the trio's bodies had been pulled from a river and identified by distraught family, after India's worst bridge collapse in decades. 

"It was so quick and sudden that I feel like it's just a dream," Jagdish, the elder brother of Mahesh, told AFP.

"We are numb.The house looks empty even though there are so many visitors."

The two brothers lived together with their children.As well as the two boys, they have four daughters between them -- and extended family.

They eked out a modest living, earning around $120 a month as labourers in a ceramics factory.

Mahesh was raising his son and daughter single-handedly after his wife died a decade earlier, and had saved tirelessly for three years to buy the household its first-ever vehicle last month.

"He was taking everyone on a joyride in the evenings," said Jagdish, 43. "The children were excited...They used to clean it every day and plead for a ride when Mahesh came home from work."

Mahesh took his son Yuvraj, 12, and nephew Girish, 10, out on yet another journey on Sunday, and later news of the bridge collapse spread through the town.

Jagdish -- Girish's father -- raced to the accident site and frantically searched the river banks for any sign of the trio, before a neighbour called to tell him that his brother's body had been seen at a hospital.

By early the next morning, with thousands of people mobbing the scene in a desperate search for survivors, the bodies of the two boys had been pulled from the water.

All three were cremated that afternoon.Mahesh's scooter was found on the riverbank but for the family, it has become a bitter reminder of their final moments. 

"I think the scooter rode them to their deaths," Jagdish said."It had become the most cherished thing in our family but we don't know what to do with it now."

'Nothing will compensate'

Rescue divers were still searching for more bodies in the Machchhu river on Tuesday, with 134 people confirmed dead -- among them 47 children. 

Nine people were arrested on homicide charges after it emerged that the 150-year-old bridge reopened without proper safety clearance.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the accident site on Tuesday and has already promised to compensate the families of victims -- a pledge that has given little comfort to the bereaved. 

"The government will do their job and people will be punished but nothing will compensate our loss," said Jagdish. 

"No amount of money will bring them back."

And his uncle Manu said the boys' deaths had put the elder generation's future in doubt.

"We always look up to our young ones to support us when we are old.But there is no one around now," he said. 

"Our daughters will get married and go to their husband's homes, and we'll be left alone."

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