Themorningbellbd.com desk, Mar 31: An overpass under construction in the bustling Indian city of Kolkata collapsed on to moving traffic below, killing at least 14 people with as many as 150 people feared trapped, police said.
Residents were using their bare hands to try to rescue people pinned under a 100-metre (110-yard) length of metal and cement that snapped off at one end and came crashing down in a teeming commercial district near Girish Park.
“Monumental tragedy. Rescue ops on. Many feared dead,” Derek O’Brien, spokesman for the left-wing party that governs the state of West Bengal of which Kolkata is the capital, said in a tweet.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, seeking re-election in a regional poll next month, rushed to the scene to survey the damage. She faces tough questions over who was responsible.
Firefighters and residents were seen trying with their bare hands to pull out those trapped under chunks of concrete and metal.
Television footage showed a bloody hand reaching out from under what appeared to be a massive girder. People were trying to hand bottles of water to survivors pinned underneath.
Visuals also showed cars buried under the collapsed bridge.
Challenged by huge blocks of metal, rescuers used cutters, drilling machines and sensors besides sniffer dogs.
“Monumental tragedy. Rescue ops on. Many feared dead,” tweeted Derek O’Brien, spokesperson of the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
Along with some 300 army men, medical teams and ambulances had also been sent, said the defence ministry. Personnel of the National Disaster Response Force were also sent to the spot.
The 2 km- flyover was being constructed at Burrabazar, a busy area in central Kolkata near the famous Ganesh Talkies. It has been under construction since 2009 and has missed several deadlines for completion.
Mamata Banerjee cancelled her campaign for the upcoming state polls and rushed to the scene to survey the damage, as rival parties attacked her government.
Union Minister Babul Supriyo, one of the two BJP parliamentarians from Bengal, alleged that the flyover was not properly planned.
“It is complete callousness of the state government. The flyover was touching the windows of houses,” Mr Supriyo told NDTV.
Kolkata is the venue of this Sunday’s World T20 cricket final.
A newspaper reported last November that Banerjee wanted the project – already years late – to be completed by February. Project engineers expressed concerns over whether this would be possible, The Telegraph said at the time.
Television footage from the scene showed a bloody hand reaching out from under what appeared to be a girder. People were trying to hand bottles of water to survivors pinned underneath.
“The concrete had been laid last night at this part of the bridge,” resident Ramesh Kejriwal told Reuters. “I am lucky as I was planning to go downstairs to have juice. When I was thinking about it, I saw that the bridge had collapsed.”
A senior police officer on the scene said that 15 critically injured people had been rescued.
“Most were bleeding profusely. The problem is that nobody is able to drive an ambulance to the spot,” said Akhilesh Chaturvedi, a senior police officer.
A 140-tonne crane brought to the scene was unable to lift the concrete slab under which many people were feared trapped, including passengers in a minibus.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted his concern and announced that rescue teams would be rushed to the scene.
Yet there was little sign of a coordinated rescue operation, with access for heavy lifting equipment restricted by the buildings on either side of the flyover and heavy traffic in the area.
The 2-km (1.2-mile) overpass has been under construction since 2009 and has missed several deadlines for completion.
Construction projects in India have long been plagued by lax safety standards and dubious ties between politicians and business.
The disaster could play a role in the West Bengal state election, one of five being held from next month that will give a verdict on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nearly two years in power.
Indian company IVRCL (IVRC.NS) is building the Vivekananda Road overpass, according to its web site. Its shares were down 6 percent after falling as much as 11.8 percent on news of the disaster.