Fear of eviction adds to trauma of Kolkata flyover collapse

Kolkata, April 1 (IANS) An eerie silence, the dust of debris and the fear of eviction hung over the site of a collapsed flyover in this eastern metropolis on Friday, a day after a large portion of the under-construction bridge flattened vehicles and snuffed out at least 24 lives.

In sharp contrast to the piercing shrieks of trapped people and rumble of gas cutters of the day before at Vivekananda Flyover, the only sounds in nearby Ganesh Talkies in north Kolkata on Friday was that of cranes buzzing about clearing debris.

Having overcome the initial shock of the devastation, residents of the sardine-packed multi-storeyed houses and numerous commercial establishments lining K.K. Tagore Street – right beneath the flyover – are now courting a different kind of panic.

“We have been asked to evict the premises today (Friday) so that the building can be demolished. A notification was sent to us by the Jorabagan police station,” a hapless Rajkumar Mundhra, a resident of 4 KK Tagore Street, told IANS.

“They had told us to move out several time earlier, but after the flyover collapse, they are pressing for it in earnest. Now, we are totally helpless… Where do we go?” he asked. Mundhra and his friends said civic authority officials have flagged most of the houses in the locality with a white marker board as “vulnerable.”

Pointing to a sheared and twisted iron girder with a slab of concrete, precariously propped atop a flattened cement mixer and truck – the remains of Thursday’s incident, Mundhra said several families have already packed off their women and children post the accident.

The aftermath of the mayhem has left a trail of swirling dust, shattered glass and splinters of iron and steel. Plastic bottles, a lone slipper and a child’s note book are strewn next to the truck.

Every time cranes dump rubble into Kolkata Municipal Corporation trucks to clear the area, a loud clang echoes, sending pigeons flying out from the houses and simultaneously sending shivers down the spines of the locals.

“I get goose bumps every time there is a loud noise… This used to be a bustling route. I hope the authorities deal with the mess swiftly and avoid another disaster,” Hari Shaw, care-taker of a small temple in the vicinity, told IANS.

Selfie-takers and the curious mill around the spot waiting for the truck to be dragged out from under the girder. Aiding the West Bengal Civic Defence and Kolkata Police in crowd control are barricades on both sides of the fallen portion as well as teams of volunteers.

Ritesh from Street Servants has been helping out in the rescue and relief since 4 p.m. on Thursday.

“We are a small team of 20 volunteers, but people from every class of society have joined in to help. Whatever may be the political scenario, as civilians we are here to help unitedly,” Ritesh Masih told IANS.

Nanak Singh and his Sikh family are doling out bowls of home-made khichdi to the volunteers and helpers since Friday morning.

“We live in the vicinity and saw that many are in trauma. The volunteers and different agencies (army, police) have been here since Thursday. This is the least that we could do… feed them,” Singh told IANS.

Singh and Masih both say crowd control has proved to be difficult on day two due to the interest in the smashed truck and possible survivors. Youngsters trundle around on a white carpet of cement and concrete dust, eyeing lamp posts that have snapped into half and shot inside the homes they were located next to.

Giant cubes of concrete and beams of iron have been placed beneath the collapsed girder to support the structure while the trapped vehicles are dragged out, according to a senior Kolkata Police official.

“We have been told that it will take at least a week more to settle things down. As for tearing down the remaining flyover, we don’t have any opinion on that because as of now, we are unsure of our own plight,” added a distraught Mundhra.

(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at sahana.g@ians.in)

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