5 building officials detained for Indian overpass collapse

By Rishi Lekhi And Rishabh R. Jain The Associated Press

KOLKATA, India — Rescuers said Friday there was no hope of finding any more survivors after clearing the crumbled concrete and twisted metal rods from an overpass that collapsed onto a crowded Kolkata neighbourhood, killing at least 24 people and injuring more than 80.
Sixty-seven people were pulled from the debris alive, and by Friday afternoon the wreckage was cleared.
“There is no possibility of finding any person alive,” said S.S. Guleria, deputy inspector general of the India’s National Disaster Response Force. Engineers are being consulted about a part of the bridge still hanging over the disaster area, after which workers will “slowly start dismantling this particular section to avoid any collateral damage to houses around it.”
Police detained five officials from a Hyderabad-based construction company contracted in 2007 to build the overpass, and sealed its Kolkata office.
The officials from the IVRCL Infrastructure Co. are being questioned for possible culpable homicide, punishable with life imprisonment, and criminal breach of trust, which carries a prison sentence of up to seven years, police said.
The company signed a contract in 2007 to build the overpass, and was far behind schedule for the project’s completion.
The partially constructed overpass had spanned nearly the width of the street and was designed to ease traffic through the densely crowded Bara Bazaar neighbourhood in the capital of the east Indian state of West Bengal. Within hours of concrete being poured into a framework of steel girders on Thursday, about 100 metres (300 feet) of the overpass collapsed.
“I heard an explosion, a solid one,” said resident Rabindra Kumar Gupta, who had been home eating lunch. “My apartment shook. The whole building shook. When I looked outside, there was a lot of smoke.”
Smashed yellow taxis, a crushed truck, destroyed rickshaws and the bloody legs of trapped people jutted from the fallen girders and concrete.
The construction company was far behind schedule for the overpass.
“We completed nearly 70 per cent of the construction work without any mishap,” IVRCL official K.P Rao said Thursday. He was not among those detained on Friday. “We have to go into the details to find out whether the collapse was due to any technical or quality issue.”
Police said 39 of the more than 80 people taken to hospitals were still being treated Friday morning.
As workers in yellow hard-hats operated huge cranes, bulldozers and other equipment to clear the rubble and pry apart the concrete slabs Friday morning, crowds of people waited anxiously to see if neighbours and friends had survived. The intersection had been a place where street vendors and service workers regularly plied their trades.
“There used to be a tailor who sat here on this corner. We wonder about him. A cigarettes and tobacco vendor ‚Äî we knew everyone who used to stay around this crossing,” resident Pankaj Jhunjhunwala said.
Rescuers also used dogs and special cameras to find people who were trapped, he said.
The operation was a “very, very challenging task,” said O.P. Singh, chief of the National Disaster Response Force.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was in Washington at the time of the collapse, said he was “shocked and saddened,” according to a message on his Twitter account.