At least 22 people were killed and hundreds trapped after a portion of a flyover under construction collapsed (watch the video clip) onto traffic moving along the street below on a busy road in north Kolkata, India, Thursday afternoon.
Barely hours after completion of the concretization work, about 150 meters of the 2.2 kilometer-long Vivekananda Road flyover connecting Girish Park in north Kolkata to Howrah came crashing down around 12.30 pm raising clouds of dust in the old and congested Burrabazaar area.
At least 78 people were pulled alive from the debris by evening. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll at 24.
Of the 19 dead, 15 have been identified while the process is under way for identifying the rest.
Twelve of the bodies have been handed over to the family members.
Three more bodies were reported to be trapped in the debris. They need to be extricated with the help of gas cutters. Rescue efforts were continuing through the night.
Massive cranes hauled up cars, trucks and rickshaws trapped under large chunks of concrete and metal debris after army engineers, 300 army personnel and five units of the National Disaster Response Force joined the local fire brigade personnel in rescue operations.
Rescue operations were already in full swing before their arrival with hundreds of people digging through the huge slabs of rubble with pick axes. Many were using bare hands to save people trapped under the debris. They were the real heroes.
Television footage from the site showed them passing water bottles to those crying out for help from beneath the debris.
Heavy duty cranes and ambulances soon arrived at the spot. All hospitals were on standby and a control room was opened at the state secretariat. Two army medical teams also arrived.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reached the crash site along with Kolkata mayor and later visited hospitals to ensure those injured get proper medical treatment.
Mamata said the flyover project started under the previous Left Front government. Many wondered whether this was the appropriate time for her to mention it.
Those found guilty of negligence in the flyover work will not be spared, she said adding the state government has ordered an investigation into the incident.
She also announced a compensation of Rs 500,000 ($7,554) each to the families of the dead, Rs 200,000 ($3,021) each for those critically injured and Rs 100,000 (1,510) each for those who suffered minor injuries.
State Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury demanded the arrest of state urban development minister Firhad Hakim and the city mayor over the accident. Chowdhury said he would file a public interest litigation seeking an investigation.
CPI-M leader and former urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya too held Hakim responsible for the tragedy.
The incident could play a role in assembly elections due in the state from April 4.
‘Act of god’
Infrastructure company IVRCL, which shares the contract for the collapsed bridge, described the accident as an act of god and denied it was the result of human negligence.
The remarks infuriated the public who said the company cannot try to wash its hands of the incident.
K. Panduranga Rao, group head (HR administration) for IVRCL, said all quality checks were completed.
“This particular job has been given to us by the Government of West Bengal and we are doing this work. We have already done 60% to 75% of work and the remaining is supposed to be completed. That is still in the process. It is nothing but ‘God’s act’,” Rao said.
“So far in 27 years, we must have constructed a number of bridges and it has never happened,” he added.
“It’s not due to any quality issue nor any technical issue, as of now,” said IVRCL director (operations) AGK Murthy.
Shares of IVRCL declined 11.5% intraday when the bridge collapsed.
A newspaper had reported last year that Mamata wanted the flyover project finished by February, although project engineers expressed concern over whether this would be possible.
One witness told the New Delhi Television news channel (NDTV): “We heard a loud rumble and then saw a lot of dust in the sky.”
Another said: “The area was very, very crowded. Motorized rickshaws, taxis … there was a lot of traffic.”
Prime Minister Modi condemned the incident and said he was shocked and saddened.
Modi, who is Washington currently, tweeted: “My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives in Kolkata. May the injured recover at the earliest.”