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Flyover Gives Way in Eastern India

Friday, April 1, 2016

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An overpass under construction in Kolkata, India, collapsed in a busy commercial district around noon Thursday (March 31), killing at least 14 and trapping more than 100 beneath the rubble, although reports vary and numbers are expected to rise.

Local news stations showed CCTV footage that captured the moment when the concrete flyover gave way onto vehicles and a crowd of people below it, Reuters reported.

An eyewitness indicated that two buses carrying more than 100 passengers were trapped. Eight taxis and six auto rickshaws could also be identified in the debris, the news agency said.

There are also reports that people, including some construction workers, have been living under the bridge in makeshift homes, the BBC noted.

Rescuers at the scene were said to be using their bare hands to try to free people, including several trapped beneath a 330-foot length of metal and cement that dropped from one end of the structure. Access by ambulances and heavy-lifting gear was reportedly hampered by the proximity of buildings to the construction site.

Local police indicated that, at the time, 78 had been taken to Kolkata's Medical College Hospital.

“The condition is pathetic. At this moment no one has any clue how many people are trapped,” Raichand Mohta, a police officer at the scene, told The Guardian.

According to resident Ramesh Kejriwal, the concrete had just been laid the night before.

Focus on Construction

Indian company IVRCL had been building the 1.2-mile Vivekananda Road flyover since 2009, various reports noted.

Milan Sheikh, an injured builder, told news agency AFP he had been working on the structure before it collapsed and had seen bolts come out of the metal girders, The Guardian said.

“We were cementing two iron girders for the pillars, but the girders couldn’t take the weight of the cement,” he said. “The bolts started coming out this morning and then the flyover came crashing down.”

A lack of inspections and use of substandard materials are two areas that are said to plague construction in India, the BBC reported. However, despite encountering delays in finishing the project, construction officials denied these were factors in the collapse.

A.G.K. Murthy, IVRCL's director of operations, said the company was not sure of the cause of the disaster, according to Reuters.

"We did not use any inferior quality material and we will cooperate with the investigators," Murthy told reporters in Hyderabad where the firm is based. "We are in a state of shock."

KP Rao, another official at IVRCL Infrastructure, stated: “About 70 percent of the construction work was completed properly. The experts regularly monitored the progress of the project … It is a total act of God. This has never happened before, we are also in shock,” Hindustan Times reported.

Political Overtones

At the scene, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the top elected leader in the state, said, "We will take every action to save lives of those trapped beneath the collapsed flyover. Rescue is our top priority."

She added that those responsible for the disaster would not be spared, Reuters said.

She had previously accused the preceding communist government in West Bengal of not adhering to building regulations, according to The Guardian.

However, Banerjee herself may not be outside the circle of blame. According to reports, the project is five years past due, having been beset by delays and safety concerns. In November, The Telegraph reported that Banerjee asked for the overpass to be finished by February, although engineers shared concerns about whether this was possible, Reuters said.

Banerjee’s party is seeking reelection in the state of West Bengal next month, and it is suspected that the bridge disaster could impact votes, sources said.

"The government wanted to complete the flyover before the elections and the labourers were working on a tight deadline,” eyewitness Ravindra Kumar Gupta told Reuters. “Maybe the hasty construction led to the collapse."

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Asia Pacific; Bridges; concrete; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Fatalities; Health & Safety; Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Roads/Highways; Steel

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