GILGIT: A major portion of the only bridge linking Baltistan region to Gilgit and the rest of the country has partially collapsed, suspending traffic on the route for the second consecutive day on Saturday.
The strategic Alam Bridge sustained damage on Thursday evening when a heavily loaded truck was passing over it. The truck was heading to Rawalpindi from Skardu when it got stuck in the middle of the bridge, leaving the driver and his colleague in a precarious situation.
The two men reportedly jumped off the vehicle to save their lives and made it safely across the bridge. Later, the truck was removed with the help of engineers from the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) which is responsible for the bridge’s maintenance.
“Thankfully, no loss of life occurred,” said a police official on Saturday, adding the bridge was immediately closed for traffic to prevent any mishap.
According to travellers, vehicles heading to Gilgit and other parts of the country from Baltistan were stopped near Alam Bridge and the drivers were told to return or wait for resumption of traffic on the crossing.
“This was bound to happen because the bridge wasn’t fit to cater to the needs of so many areas for such a long time,” said Farman Ali, a resident of Baltistan, which includes Skardu, Ghanche and Shigar among other towns and has a population of over 300,000 people.
“This is the only bridge linking Baltistan to the country and I think it should have been replaced with a reinforced concrete bridge a long time ago,” he added.
The incident has triggered criticism against Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Mehdi Shah’s government which has been accused of mismanagement and corruption in the past.
“The chief minister has disappointed us,” said Baltistan chief of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Fida Nashad. “This strategic bridge should have been replaced with a better one during the government’s five years. But this did not happen,” Nashad said.
An FWO spokesperson in Gilgit told The Express Tribune repair work has begun and traffic would be resumed soon. “Engineers have begun repairing the bridge and we are hopeful it would be fit for traffic within the next 24 hours,” said the spokesman.
Built with a combination of iron rods and wood over Gilgit River, Alam Bridge is one of the longest bridges in G-B measuring about 300 metres in length. In view of its safety, FWO staff is deployed at the bridge to ensure vehicles don’t pass it at dangerous speeds. In addition, trucks and other loaded vehicles weighing more than 20 tonnes are not allowed to pas