Rescuers worked all night with cranes and jackhammers to clear
concrete slabs and steel girders from the 100-meter (110-yard)
length of the overpass that broke off suddenly and crashed down on
pedestrians and vehicles on the road below.
Ninety were rescued, many with serious trauma injuries, but chances
of finding survivors in the wreckage had dwindled nearly a full day
after Thursday's disaster in a teeming commercial district near the
city's Girish Park.
"It is being ensured that there are no more dead bodies under the
debris," S.S. Guleria, a deputy inspector general of the National
Disaster Response Force, told Reuters Television.
Television channels broadcast images of a street scene with two
autorickshaws and a crowd of people suddenly obliterated by a mass
of falling concrete that narrowly missed cars crawling in a traffic
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, whose center-left party is seeking
re-election next month in the state of West Bengal, said those
responsible would not be spared and blamed the previous state
government that had awarded the overpass contract in 2007.
Yet she herself faces questions about a construction project that
has been plagued by delays and safety fears under her rule.
A newspaper reported last November that Banerjee wanted the overpass
- already five years overdue - to be completed by February. Project
engineers expressed concerns over whether this would be possible,
the Telegraph newspaper said at the time.
The disaster could play a role in the election in West Bengal, whose
capital is Kolkata. The poll is one of five being held this month
that will give an interim verdict on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's
nearly two years in power.
Indian company IVRCL <IVRC.NS> was building the 2-km (1.2-mile)
Vivekananda Road overpass, according to its web site. Its shares
fell another 6 percent on Friday as police announced they had opened
a case of culpable homicide.
The local offices of IVRCL were sealed and a police team was on its
way to interview bosses at the company's headquarters in the
southern city of Hyderabad, according to reports.
A senior IVRCL manager had drawn national condemnation for calling
the disaster an act of God.
"We did not use any inferior quality
material and we will cooperate with the investigators," the
company's director of operations, A.G.K. Murthy told reporters on
Thursday. "We are in a state of shock."
[to top of second column]
Years of delays may have caused corrosion to metal elements of the
overpass, undermining its stability, according to rescuers who
examined the wreckage. Locals said that concrete was poured on the
stretch the night before its collapse.
Rescue operations were slow initially, with local residents forming
crowds several deep as they tried to help trapped people.
But three cranes working overnight managed to clear some of the
wreckage and free access to vehicles with people believed to be
still trapped inside.
Harrowing news images showed the leg and arm of one dead man
protruding from under a massive steel girder. The broken leg of an
unconscious man flapped uselessly as rescuers gripped his other
three limbs to carry him away.
Getting survivors to hospital was complicated by a lack of access
for ambulances to the overpass, hemmed in by buildings on either
side. Safety standards were lax, witnesses said.
"Every night, hundreds of laborers would build the flyover and they
would cook and sleep near the site by day," said Ravindra Kumar
Gupta, a grocer who pulled out six bodies, together with his
"The government wanted to complete the flyover before the elections
and the laborers were working on a tight deadline. Maybe the hasty
construction led to the collapse."
(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain; Writing by Douglas Busvine;
Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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