On Thursday afternoon a flyover collapsed on top of moving traffic in the Indian city of Kolkata, killing at least 22 and trapping hundreds more.
The Kolkata flyover had been under construction over a busy road when it collapsed. Approximately 250 meters of the 2.2-kilometer Vivekananda Road flyover collapsed around 12.30 am. India has a problem with building collapses due to poor regulation and substandard materials.
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Rescue teams digging survivors out from rubble in Kolkata
The road connects Girish Park to Howrah in northern Kolkata. At least 78 people had been pulled from the rubble at the time of writing, but the death toll is expected to keep on rising as a bus, cars, trucks and rickshaws are still trapped.
Indian army engineers are on the scene using special machines to rescue survivors. The army has also brought in six columns of rescue troops, while two units of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are on their way.
“Our team is on their way to the site with all required equipment, we are also pressing into service canines which will help find trapped people,” said an NDRF official. “We will start the operations as soon as possible. Two team with gas cutters have been dispatched.”
Chief Minister Mamata blames previous government
As it stands the fire brigade and hundreds of local people are digging out survivors, with many using their bare hands. A video clip shows people handing out water bottles to those still trapped underneath the debris.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has been in contact with the West Bengal government, while Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is present at the site alongside the mayor of Kolkata. Mamata risked controversy after she stated that the construction project began under the previous state government, and accused it of flouting building regulations.
The flyover contract was signed in 2007, with an expected timeline of 2 years. Unfortunately building collapses are all too common in India, due to poor enforcement of regulations and the use of substandard materials.
Mamata promised that those responsible for the collapse will be punished. She revealed that $7,554 in compensation would be paid to the families of the deceased, while those critically injured would receive $3,021. Those with minor injuries stand to receive $1,510 in compensation.
Construction company practices called into question
The flyover was being built by infrastructure company IVRCL and its partners. The company described the incident as an act of god and ruled out human negligence in causing the collapse.
K. Panduranga Rao of IVRCL maintained that all checks had been carried out, and agreed to cooperate with authorities in any investigation.
“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 ‘Gods act’,” Rao said. “So far in 27 years, we must have constructed a number of bridges and it has never happened.”
However he later added that “the bridge is still under construction, just one girder has missed, because of that, it has happened it seems. that is how it looks.”
Shares in IVRCL dropped 11.5% intraday following news of the collapse. However company director AGK Murthy said that “it’s not due to any quality issue nor any technical issue, as of now.”
Modi condemns incident on Washington visit
Last year local media reported that Mamata was pushing for the flyover to be finished by February. Project managers raised concerns about the timeline.
After the collapse an eyewitness told 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.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed his shock and sadness after condemning the incident. He took to Twitter to write: “My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives in Kolkata. May the injured recover at the earliest.”
“Prime Minster Modi is in touch with officials in New Delhi, has instructed the army and the NDRF to give all possible assistance to the state government in the rescue operation,” Government of India spokesperson Frank Noronha told ANI.
It is thought that rescue efforts could take several days to complete. There are huge slabs of concrete that require special equipment to lift. Gory images of the incident show bloodied limbs sticking from the debris, and one video shows a hand motioning for help from beneath the rubble.
Rescuers will have to work fast in order to give those that are still trapped the best chance of survival.