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Bridge collapses: Over 4,000 vehicles remain stranded on second day

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BALAKOT: Hundreds of passengers and drivers remained stranded on Mansehra-Naran-Jalkhad road in Kaghan for the second day in a row as the relevant authorities failed to make alternative arrangements to clear the road of over 4,000 vehicles.

While talking to The Express Tribune on Sunday, locals and the police said a heavy truck loaded with cement was en route to Chilas from Mansehra. The truck was driven on a centuries-old wooden bridge, but the structure could not bear the burden and collapsed, while the truck fell in the river. Subsequently, the driver and his assistant also got injured.

Traffic came to a standstill on both sides of Mansehra-Naran-Jalkhad road in Kaghan.

Stuck en route

Since bridge was built to facilitate tourists to reach the picnic sports of Saiful Malook Lake, Babusar Top and to reach Gilgit-Baltistan, many vehicles en route to these places were left stranded on the road. Many of the over 4,000 small and heavy vehicles were carrying passengers to G-B from down country to celebrate Eidul Azha. Some of the vehicles had tourists who chose to take the Mansehra-Naran-Jalkhad Road to travel to their destinations.

A tourist from Lahore, Khadim Hussain, told The Express Tribune over the phone he went to see Saiful Malook Lake with his family but got stuck in a long queue of vehicles. However, he was not worried about lodging as hotels in Battakundi have space now that the holiday season has passed. Not only that, several loaded trucks and passenger vans could not resume their journey towards down country till this report was filed.

Other routes

To avoid inconvenience for the passengers, the Balakot administration has diverted the Gilgit-bound traffic towards Karakoram Highway via Kohistan, although this route increases duration of the journey by over three hours, as compared to that via the Mansehra-Naran-Jalkhad road. Pordil Khan, a driver from Mansehra, said his truck was loaded with vegetables and fruits and he could not leave it there. He added the only option he had was to get back to Chilas and reach Mansehra via Kohistan, but a long drive would destroy his fruits and  vegetables.

When approached for comments Balakot Assistant Commissioner Ruman Burhana confirmed there were over 3,000 vehicles stranded on both sides of the broken bridge. He added some of the passenger vehicles were helped crossing the stream Saturday evening, but due to the heavy flow of water all the vehicles remained stranded. The assistant commissioner said some of the drivers who were coming from G-B opted to go back and use KKH to reach down country, while others were still there. However, he added, heavy traffic would not be allowed unless the old bridge was repaired.

The iron-fenced wooden bridge that was 20 feet long and eight feet wide was built during the British Raj. It was situated near Batakundi village, some 25 kilometres from Naran. Although it was meant for light traffic, it remained under use of heavy traffic.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2016.

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