India: Dozens Feared Trapped in Deadly Overpass Collapse

Akash Vashishtha
New Delhi
160331-IN-overpass-collapse-620.jpg Indian rescue workers and volunteers try to free people trapped under the wreckage of a collapsed overpass in Kolkata, March 31, 2016.

A controversial under-construction overpass collapsed Thursday in a densely populated section of Kolkata, one of India’s largest cities, killing at least 21 people and injuring at least 88.

“All I could see were bodies,” Samir Agarwal, a local shopkeeper whose store is barely 30 meters (98.4 feet) from the collapse site, told BenarNews.

“We rushed to take people out, but all we could see were lifeless bodies,” he said.

Rescue efforts continued overnight to dig out scores more feared trapped under piles of concrete and steel, which were the ruins of the long-delayed project to build an overpass through one of Kolkata’s most congested business districts, Burrabazar.

Members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the army, police and volunteers were helping cut through tons of debris to reach an estimated 150 missing people who were feared trapped.

A 100-meter section of the 2.2 km- (1.3 mile-) bridge collapsed at about 12:15 p.m. at a busy intersection, crushing passing vehicles and pedestrians.

“We have sent five columns of army, comprising 60 men each to the site. About 300 personnel are presently engaged in rescue,” Wing Commander S.S. Birdi, chief public relations officer of the Ministry of Defense for the Kolkata region, told BenarNews.

“We have also deployed 10 ambulances, each having its own surgical team, consisting of doctors and nursing staff. There is also an engineering team with specialized equipment. There are two teams with gas cutters,” he said.

While announcing compensation for families of those killed and injured, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said “stringent action” would be taken against the bridge’s builders – Iragavarapu Venkata Reddy Construction Limited (IVRCL) – headquartered in the south Indian city of Hyderabad.

“Money is no substitute for it, but we will compensate those who have been affected by this tragedy,” Banerjee told journalists at the collapse site, adding that the government would give 500,000 rupees (U.S. $7,546) to each of the families of the dead and 100,000 ($1,509) to each injured person.

“We will also take care of all their medical bills, even if they want to get treated at a private hospital,” said Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress party is in the middle of a state election campaign.

‘Act of God’

Construction of the overpass, which aimed to connect north and east Kolkata with the iconic Howrah Bridge, began in 2009 and has missed nine deadlines since.

The bridge’s design sparked protests in 2009, with residents saying it would pass over some of their balconies, and the materials used were of low quality.

“We had been complaining about this bridge ever since they started building it. But no one paid a heed then. This was a disaster waiting to happen,” Bijoy Sarkar, a resident of the Burrabazar area, told BenarNews.

However, an official with IVRCL denied there was anything wrong with the construction of the bridge, terming the tragedy as an “act of God.”

“We have been constructing flyovers for 27 years. Nothing like this has ever happened,” K.P. Rao told reporters. “We don’t know the exact problem yet. We are in deep shock. But I can assure you it could not have been a quality or technical issue. It is God’s act.

“We had finished almost 70 percent of the work. We would have completed construction by November,” he added.

Police on Thursday booked the company on charges of causing death due to negligence and sealed its local offices, even as the state government ordered a probe into the incident.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Washington to attend a two-day Nuclear Security Summit, wrote on Twitter: “Shocked and saddened by collapse of under construction flyover in Kolkata. Took stock of the situation and rescue operations. My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives in Kolkata.”


Agarwal the shopkeeper was in his office when he heard the overpass collapse.

He said he would “never be able to forget” what the disaster that he witnessed so close to his shop.

“I thought a bomb had gone off. I ran out to see the entire structure lying on the road,” he told Benar.

“After a while, the police and army arrived. They began cutting through thick metal and concrete. It’s going to take a long time to get to the people stuck underneath,” Agarwal added.


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