An under-construction flyover collapsed in a congested Kolkata market on Thursday, killing at least 22 people and trapping hundreds underneath giant steel frames and concrete slabs.
Around 250 metres of the 2.2 kilometre-long Vivekananda Road flyover crashed onto dense traffic around 12.30 pm near one of Kolkata’s most important business districts, Burrabazar. The official death toll was 19.
Close circuit camera footage showed people, cars, buses, autorickshaws and hawkers getting crushed as the massive concrete structure crashed on the busy street underneath.
A bloody hand from under a girder gestured for help as people handed over water bottles to survivors pinned underneath.
At the Calcutta Medical College Hospital (CMCH), blood covered the entire floor as people frantically looked for familiar faces among the dead and injured.
“It is nothing but an act of God. So far in 27 years we have constructed several number of bridges...it never happened,” said K Panduranga Rao of the Hyderabad-based IVRCL, the company building the flyover.
Local residents said casting was done on a portion of the collapsed structure on Wednesday night.
Caught on camera: The moment when the flyover collapsed
Police sealed the offices of IVRCL and registered an FIR at the Posta police station.
Experts warned that the toll could mount and clearing debris may take several days as cranes to lift heavy concrete slabs hadn’t arrived hours after the accident. Rescuers had pulled out more than 80 people till 10 pm.
“We cannot say when the debris will be cleared and the rescue operations will be over…We have been able to rescue, or extract, very little of what locals and eyewitnesses told us are buried under the rubble,” said Supratim Sarkar, joint commissioner (headquarters) of Kolkata Police.
Authorities rushed 500 army men and National Disaster Response Force personnel to help local police rescue passengers from buses and taxis under the debris.
“Shocked & saddened by collapse of under construction flyover in Kolkata. Took stock of the situation & rescue operations,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to the spot and sought to shift the blame for the disaster to the erstwhile Left Front that was in power when construction began in 2009.
My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives in Kolkata. May the injured recover at the earliest.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 31, 2016
“Construction began on flyover during CPI(M) time, not our time. We have cancelled all our election meetings, and have come here. The guilty will be given strict punishment,” she said.
The government announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the families of the dead, Rs 2 lakh for those critically injured and Rs1 lakh for those who suffered minor injuries.
But opposition parties weren’t convinced and blamed the ruling Trinamool Congress for the incident that is expected to influence the assembly polls less than a week away.
“The construction work was carried on in an unscientific manner. The state administration did not take any lesson even after the collapse of Ultadanga flyover three years ago,” said Union minister of state for urban development and BJP MP Babul Supriyo.
The Congress demanded the arrest of state urban development minister Firhad Hakim – who was seen accepting cash in a recent sting video -- and accused the police of being lax in starting rescue operations.
“We demand full investigation. People are dying like cats and dogs,” said state Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury.
The flyover was supposed to be one of the longest in the city and ease traffic woes by connecting the packed Central Avenue to Howrah Bridge. But it missed several deadlines as the implementing agency went bankrupt amid ballooning costs, land hurdles and frequent design changes.
“It’s not due to any quality issue nor any technical issue, as of now,” said IVRCL director (operations) AGK Murty.
The final deadline for the flyover was in May 2015 but was missed.
The frequent delays and cost overruns may have taken a toll on the structure – a common problem with infrastructure projects in Kolkata that are choked by regulatory hurdles and unavailability of land.
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