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21 people killed after overpass collapses in India

Published 31/03/2016

Locals and rescue workers clear the rubble of a partially collapsed overpass in Kolkata (AP)
Locals and rescue workers clear the rubble of a partially collapsed overpass in Kolkata (AP)

A long section of a road overpass under construction has collapsed in a crowded Indian neighbourhood, leaving at least 21 people dead and scores of others injured.

Rescuers in Kolkata used saws, small cranes and their bare hands to dig through the wreckage in search of survivors.

At least 21 people were killed, a police official said. It was not immediately clear how many people remained missing.

Yogesh Sharma was sitting at a small roadside tea stand with friends when the overpass, which spanned nearly the width of the city street and was designed to ease traffic through the densely crowded Bara Bazaar neighbourhood, "came down with a huge crashing sound".

"I left my cup of tea and ran," said Mr Sharma, a 23-year-old resident. "I was crying at the spot."

Smashed yellow taxis, destroyed rickshaws and the bloody legs of trapped people jutted from the collapsed girders and concrete slabs.

The fallen sections of the overpass totalled around 100 metres, with many other parts still standing.

Mamta Banerjee, the top elected official of West Bengal state, said a private builder had missed several deadlines for completing the construction.

Army troops and personnel from the National Disaster Response Force joined efforts to extract people from vehicles that lay under massive concrete blocks and metal debris.

Huge cranes and other rescue equipment reached the site and rescuers began clearing the rubble. Workers also used gas cutters to pry open the slabs.

O.P. Singh, the chief of the disaster response force, said the operation was a "very, very challenging task".

Rescuers were using sniffer dogs and special cameras to find trapped people, Mr Singh told reporters.

More than 70 injured people were admitted to two hospitals in Kolkata, hospital officials said.

"The area was very, very crowded. Motorised rickshaws, taxis... there was a lot of traffic," one witness told NDTV television.

The contract for the overpass was signed in 2007 and it was expected to be completed within two years.

Ms Banerjee accused the previous Communist government in West Bengal of not adhering to building regulations.

"We completed nearly 70% of the construction work without any mishap," said K.P Rao, a top official of IVRCL Infrastructure company, which was building the overpass.

"We have to go into the details to find out whether the collapse was due to any technical or quality issue."

"It was a total act of God,'" said his colleague, Dilip, who uses one name.

Building collapses are common in India, where regulations are poorly enforced and builders often use substandard materials.

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