A 116-metre-long metal bridge on Pakhimara canal, in Nilganj union of Kalapara upazila, collapsed on August 5. The bridge was the only means of communications for inhabitants of at least five adjoining villages.
According to locals, Kalapara Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) spent Tk 30 lakh in 2013-14 fiscal year to build the bridge with materials salvaged from several outdated metal bridges.
The structure of the bridge was rickety as its pillars were not properly piled into the canal bed and it lacked diagonal support cross beams between the pillars, they alleged.
Anticipating a disastrous incident any time, they had been afraid to use the bridge ever since. Finally, on Wednesday night, almost the entire bridge crumpled in the canal, they also said.
Ruhul Amin Mridha, a farmer from Kumirmara village, said he was fortunate enough to have a narrow escape when the bridge suddenly fell apart that night.
He said while he was on way back to his home from Pakhimara Bazar, around halfway through the bridge, it started to crumble into the canal with a huge bang.
He then turned around and started running to safety, but he could not prevent himself from falling into the canal as the bridge tilted on one side and collapsed. He managed to swim ashore after ten minutes of struggle against water hyacinth and strong current.
Locals said residents of Kumirmara, Majidarpur, Alempur, Baintala and Faridganj villages use the bridge to communicate with headquarters in Kalapara upazila town and Patuakhali district town.
Farming is the mainstay of these rural communities and they depended on the bridge to transport their goods and produce to and from nearby towns. Students also use the bridge extensively to get to their educational institutions.
Bayezid, Imran and Taslima, all students at Nilganj College, said schools and colleges in the area might reopen soon. But without the bridge, it would be extremely risky for students, especially young ones, to rely on boats for crossing the canal during heavy rains or storms.
Parents and guardians of a number of students expressed similar concerns.
Nasir Mahmud, chairman of Nilganj Union Parishad (UP), said villagers are currently risking their lives while using dinghies to cross the canal and the upazila administration, upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) and officials at LGED have already been informed of the situation.
Contacted, UNO Abu Hasnat Mohammad Shahidul Haque said he has directed the LGED to take necessary steps in repairing the bridge and he also advised the UP chairman to restore communications through alternative means.
Kalapara LGED engineer Delwar Hossain said following a decision made by Kalapara Upazila Parishad, in order to replace a wooden bridge on the canal, they built the metal bridge six years ago with materials salvaged from older bridges.
A list of broken down and risky bridges in the upazila has already been sent to the ministry concerned and the LGED would start constructing a new bridge on the canal as soon as the list gets approval from the ministry.