KOLKATA, India (AP) — Rescuers in Kolkata dug through large chunks of debris from a massive overpass that collapsed across an intersection while under construction Thursday, killing at least 15 people and injuring scores of others, officials said.
A section of the overpass in the busy Bara Bazaar residential and shopping area in north Kolkata fell on vehicles and people moving underneath, trapping scores in their cars, trucks and motorized rickshaws.
“We heard a loud rumble and then saw a lot of dust in the sky,” a witness told the New Delhi Television news channel, NDTV.
Mamta Banerjee, the top elected official of West Bengal state, said 15 people had been confirmed dead. Banerjee visited the collapse site and said a private builder had missed several deadlines for completing the overpass.
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 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 victim locating cameras to find trapped people, Singh told reporters.
More than 70 injured people were admitted to two hospitals in Kolkata, the state capital, hospital officials said.
“The area was very, very crowded. Motorized rickshaws, taxis … there was a lot of traffic,” one witness told NDTV.
Television images showed the bloody legs of some of trapped people jutting out of the collapsed girders and concrete slabs.
The contract for the overpass was signed in 2007 and it was expected to be completed in two years. Banerjee accused the previous Communist government in West Bengal of not adhering to building regulations.
“We completed nearly 70 percent 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.