Kolkata flyover crash toll 23, army, NDRF continue rescue

Kolkata, April 1 (IANS) With the discovery of two more bodies, the toll in the flyover tragedy in Kolkata rose to 23 on Friday, as the army and the disaster management teams continued their efforts to find corpses and trapped survivors.

The army, National Disaster Response Force personnel, alongside the fire brigade and the police worked through the night and on Friday morning using gas cutters and other sophisticated equipment to cut through the rubble and the tonnes of steel, iron and concrete which had given way Thursday afternoon.

Various agencies were also working to clear the devastation caused by collapse of the Vivekananda Road flyover in the Posta area and restore normalcy of traffic in the crowded market locality.

However, the rescue and clearance operations were hampered for some time due to late night rains.

“Two more bodies have been extricated. The toll now is 23,”an officer manning the city police control room told IANS. A total of 60 people are injured, some of them battling for life in various hospitals.

“We will need a couple of days to completely remove the debris and ensure normal traffic movement in the entire area. But we are trying to ensure normal traffic at the important intersection of Rabindra Sarani and Klirkishna Thakur Street in the next few hours,” said a police officer.

A top NDRF official said they needed hydraulic jets to clear the devastation.

“It will be done under a very specialised kind of care. There is a requirement of a hydraulic jet. We need to stabilise this building. And specially the construction company, their specialists, their structural engineers, under their supervision this operation will be condcucted,” said the official.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who personally coordinated the rescue operations for hours, has announced a compensation of Rs.5 lakh as ex-gratia to the next of the kin of the deceased, Rs.2 lakh each for the critically injured and Rs.1 lakh for people with minor injuries.

Banerjee also formed two expert teams to look into the reasons for the mishap and suggest remedies.

Following Banerjee’s instructions, the police filed an FIR against officials of the ill-fated flyover’s Hyderabad-based implementing agency IVRCL Infrastructure, whose chief termed the mishap as an Act of god.”

“The office of the construction company in the city have been sealed and we will take strong action against them,” said police commissioner Rajeev Kumar.

While Governor K.N. Tripathi sought a report from the Mamata Banerjee government, the incident led to a political slugfest between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition in the poll-bound state.

Experts from Kharagpur-IIT and Jadavpur University told IANS that lack of proper planning, delays, lacunae in design and bad tendering could have triggered the collapse.

Construction workers said the problems had started on the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday when the concrete casting was being done.

Sunil Sarkar, who was among those doing the concrete casting, said ”the bolt was coming apart as the bucket could not hold it. I think the sunshade in that particular place was made too big”.

Sarkar, now in hospital after sustaining injury when the fly-over collapsed, said a technician was called who welded the bolt in place.

“Our supervisors assured us that everything was in order and asked us to go ahead with the concrete casting.”

“‘The casting continued till noon on Thursday. When the work was almost complete the same part caved in and the flyover gave away,” said the resident of Murshidabad district.

The long-delayed 2.5-km flyover was expected to tackle congestion in Burra Bazar area — the location of one of the largest wholesale markets in Asia — up to the Howrah station, the gateway to the city.

It was scheduled to be ready in 2012 but land acquisition issues delayed its completion. The implementing agency, too ran into financial troubles.

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