Kolkata, April 1 (IANS) The toll in the Kolkata flyover tragedy climbed to 24 on Friday as the army and the disaster management teams continued efforts to find bodies and survivors trapped under the debris.
The flyover, still under construction, crashed on Thursday, leaving scores of people and vehicles crushed.
While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday night put the deaths at 21, Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar said two more bodies were recovered on Friday morning and one was still trapped in the rubble.
The personnel of the army and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) worked alongside the fire brigade and police through the night and on Friday morning, using gas cutters and other sophisticated equipment, cut through the rubble and tonnes of steel, iron and concrete which had given way on Thursday afternoon.
Various agencies were also working to clear the devastation caused by the collapse of the Vivekananda Road flyover in the Posta area and make way for traffic in the crowded market locality.
However, the rescue and clearance operations were hampered for some time due to showers late in the night.
“So far, 23 dead bodies have been recovered while another is trapped. The toll now is 24,” Rajeev Kumar said, adding the number of injured stood at 80.
The police commissioner also said it will take “two-three days to completely remove the debris and ensure normal traffic movement in the entire area”.
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 for hours personally coordinated the rescue operations, has announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs.5 lakh to next of the kin of those killed, Rs.2 lakh each for the critically injured and Rs.1 lakh for those who suffered minor injuries.
Banerjee also formed two expert teams to look into what caused the the tragic accident and suggest remedies.
Following Banerjee’s instructions, police filed an FIR against officials of the ill-fated flyover’s Hyderabad-based construction agency IVRCL Infrastructure, whose chief termed the structure’s collapse as “an act of god”.
“The office of the construction company in the city has 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 accident 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 started on the intervening night of Wednesday-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 flyover 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.