NEW DELHI — Hundreds of rescuers dug through rubble Friday night in the search for people buried underneath a section of a highway overpass that collapsed in Kolkata, India.
About 100 meters of the under-construction Vivekananda Overpass came crashing to the streets of Girish Park, a crowded neighborhood with wholesale markets, around midday Thursday, CNN IBN reported.
Moving cars and pedestrians were suddenly buried. At least 22 people died, authorities said.
At first, while the dust hung in the air, people desperately dug into the rubble with shovels and even their hands. Later, an army of hard-hatted rescue crews arrived. Bright lights illuminated the scene as heavy machinery lifted wide slabs of concrete that fell onto the streets.
Nobody knows how long the rescue effort will last. Maj. Gen. Anurag Gupta of India’s National Disaster Management Authority said nobody knows how many people may have died.
“We cannot predict how many people are still under wreckage,” he said. “We can’t tell since it’s a bridge and not a building.”
Gupta said at least 75 others suffered injuries in the collapse in the area north of the city’s center.
At one point, Kolkata police Sgt. Saurav Benerjee said more than 100 were unaccounted for, though that doesn’t mean they were all necessarily trapped.
Company executive calls it ‘God’s act’
An executive for the construction company building the 2-kilometer overpass, IVRCL, said the collapse was not the company’s fault, reported CNN IBN.
“It’s nothing but a God’s act. So far in 27 years we have constructed several number of bridges … it never happened,” K Panduranga Rao of the Hyderabad-based company told reporters.
But overpasses have collapsed in the city before. In March 2013, a fully constructed overpass collapsed in eastern Kolkata. A truck fell into a canal, but the people inside were rescued. It’s not known what company built that overpass.
The Vivekananda Overpass project had been plagued by delays and was supposed to have been finished five years ago.
CNN’s Mallika Kapur in Mumbai said that’s not unusual in India. Several long overpasses that extend more than a mile have been built in Kolkata in the last decade.
The search for family members
Kolkata residents looked feverishly for their family members.
Shabana Farooqui, 35, was on her way to pick up her two children from school when the overpass fell, her family told CNN IBN. They said they visited hospitals and the morgue, and don’t know if she’s dead or alive.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted he was “shocked and saddened” by the collapse.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives in Kolkata,” Modi added. “May the injured recover at the earliest.”
Chaos in a crowded neighborhood
Video showed swarms of people on the scene in Girish Park, a crowded neighborhood with wholesale markets, where one section of the overpass had fallen off. Some carried out pieces of debris, and others used fire hoses to spray water around the debris.
They managed to pull at least 71 injured people from the rubble, the National Disaster Management Authority’s Gupta said. It’s unclear if those rescued were among the people unaccounted for by the police.
CNN IBN said the collapse happened near several apartment buildings, which had to be evacuated because of fear of structural damage and worries that other sections of the 2-kilometer overpass might fall.
Speaking on local TV from the collapse site, Mamata Banerjee — chief minister of West Bengal state, where Kolkata is the capital — announced that relatives of those killed in the collapse would get roughly the equivalent of $7,500.
Those critically injured, meanwhile, would get about $3,000 each.
India’s army has deployed four columns of rescue personnel, according to a tweet from an Indian Ministry of Defense representative. Three medical teams with two ambulances, doctors and nursing assistants are also there.
And the National Disaster Response Force has five teams at the site, with two more on the way.
Other overpass accidents
IVRCL’s company’s website said the overpass was being built for the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority.
The company website said the Vivekananda Overpass project was a composite steel structure, full of utilities, and was being built in a congested area that hampered movement of heavy equipment. It isn’t the first time there’s been a deadly road construction accident in India in recent years.
India has experienced other overpass collapses over the years.
In Bhagalpur in 2006, an overbridge fell on an express train, killing 37 passengers.
In 2009, scaffolding on a bridge under construction collapsed in Kota, killing 30 workers.
In 2014, three laborers were killed when a portion of an overpass under construction collapsed in the Parle Point area of Surat, a Surat official told the PTI news agency.