Thursday, March 31, 2016

At least 20 killed as unfinished overpass collapses in Indian city of Kolkata

At least 20 people were killed and dozens more injured when an overpass collapsed in a busy Indian city on Thursday, as emergency workers battled to rescue people trapped under the rubble.

The flyover was under construction when a 100-meter section collapsed onto a crowded street in the eastern city of Kolkata around lunchtime, crushing pedestrians, cars and other vehicles under concrete slabs and metal.

"So far 20 people are confirmed dead. The toll is likely to rise as many people are injured," Javed Ahmed Khan, disaster management minister for the state of West Bengal, said.

Specialist rescue teams armed with concrete and metal cutters, drilling machines, sensors to detect life and sniffer dogs were dispatched to the scene.

TV footage showed that soldiers then rushed to the site, as locals armed with bamboo sticks raced to lift rubble and crowds gathered in the hope of hearing news of loved ones feared trapped.

"Everything is finished," screamed Parbati Mondal, whose husband - a fruit seller - was missing in the collapse.

An eyewitness at the scene described a loud bang "like a bomb blast and suddenly there was a lot of smoke and dust."

An injured builder said at the scene that he had been working on the structure before it collapsed and had seen bolts come out of the metal girders.

"We were cementing two iron girders for the pillars, but the girders couldn't take the weight of the cement," said 30-year-old Milan Sheikh before being taken away to hospital. "The bolts started coming out this morning, and then the flyover came crashing down."

Construction on the two-kilometer-long flyover began in 2009 and was supposed to be completed within 18 months but has suffered a series of holdups.

The disaster is the latest in a string of deadly construction accidents in India­, where enforcement of safety rules is weak and substandard materials are often used. The disaster came just days before the World T20 cricket final, which is set to draw thousands of fans to the city on Sunday.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he was monitoring the situation, adding that he was "deeply saddened to know that precious lives have been lost in the Kolkata accident."

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