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Search on for missing in Nepal tragedy

KATHMANDU -- Troops joined police searching Wednesday for hundreds of people missing a day after a bridge collapsed killing 16 and injuring 40 more in a steep river gorge in Nepal, officials said.

Nearly 400 people were on the bridge over the Bheri river, 380 kilometers west of the capital Kathmandu, when disaster struck on Tuesday afternoon, witnesses said.

Police said 35 had been officially reported as missing by relatives early Wednesday and the number was expected to rise.

"The rescue operations began early Wednesday morning. Around 450 police and soldiers have been deployed to scour the river banks from three locations," district administrator Anil Kumar Pandey told AFP by phone.

The 500-meter (1,650-foot) bridge, only a year old and made of metal and steel coils, plunged into the gorge after a catastrophic failure of one of the supporting pillars that rose 50 meters above the water level, officials said.

Despite the search efforts, including two helicopters that were scouring the river, hopes of finding people still alive appeared remote.

"The chances of finding survivors look slim," Pandey said.

Deputy superintendent of police Bahadur Jung Malla, who was involved in the rescue operations, told AFP that police and army teams were combing the river banks up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) downstream.

"It appears that mostly women and children are the ones who have gone missing," he said.

"It's a huge tragedy. Relatives are coming to us to report about their missing kin," Malla added.

Nar Bahadur Bika, a resident of a nearby village who was on the edge of the bridge on Tuesday when the accident occurred, said the span was so packed "there was hardly any space to move."

"The bridge was swaying and all of a sudden I heard a cracking sound," Bika told AFP from a hospital where two relatives injured in the collapse were recovering.

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