Updated: April 1, 2016 9:09:26 am
There was no prior indication, only a sudden, explosive sound. “And then it came crashing down,” say people who saw a section of Vivekananda Road flyover in Kolkata’s Girish Park area cave in at 12.30 pm Thursday, leaving at least 25 people dead and nearly 90 recuperating in different hospitals.
Both figures are likely to rise, for more than six hours later, the debris had hardly been budged — there are reports of vehicles and even a minibus full of passengers trapped underneath.
At the time, said Satish Aggarwal, a trader in Burrabazar, there were many people under the flyover. “Like every day, hawkers, labourers, rickshaw-pullers were under the under-construction project to beat the heat, and peacefully have a meal,” Aggarwal said.
Video: Visuals of Rescue Operations
Like Aggarwal, Bikram Dey, a Howrah resident who was buried briefly, rescued later, and rushed to a hospital, remembers the “explosive noise”. “After that, there was this great pressure surrounding me. I thought the world had simply ended. It wasn’t until a lot later that I realised the flyover had fallen on me and I began shouting for help,” he said.
He was one of the lucky ones. A senior police officer indicated there was a possibility of many dying while the rescue operations continued. Residents and rescue forces were seen trying to drip water from bottles into the mouths of those trapped near the surface. “We don’t know about those who we can’t see. The others, only God knows,” said the officer.
The 2.5-km flyover was meant to tackle the congestion at Burrabazar, one of the largest wholesale markets in Asia, and Howrah station. On Thursday, that very congestion left the rescue operations badly hampered — cranes found it near-impossible to reach the spot; the smaller ones that were taken in were incapable of budging the debris. By 4 pm, locals formed human chains to try and regulate the rescue forces — four columns of Army personnel (about 300) along with NDRF, state disaster management, city police and fire brigade personnel.
Launched by the Left Front government in 2009, the flyover is a Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority project that was nearing completion. Three months before the polls that year, then CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had inaugurated the project, setting a deadline of 18 months. On Thursday, electoral politics once again occupied centrestage as a visibly agitated Mamata Banerjee rushed in, cancelling short her poll rally in West Midnapore district. Announcing instructions to the police, she reiterated that this project was started “during the Left Front regime, not ours”.
Banerjee announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh for families of the deceased, Rs 2 lakh each for critically injured, and Rs 1 lakh for those with minor injuries.
The opposition, in turn, accused the TMC government of laxity and demanded an investigation. State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury arrived at the spot and sought an investigation alleging that corruption was “rampant”. The BJP and CPM, too, followed suit.
Banerjee promised “stringent action” against officials of IVRCL, the construction company, and “others involved”.
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