A bridge under construction collapsed in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata Thursday, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens more.
Javed Ahmed Khan, disaster management minister for the state of West Bengal, said the death toll is expected to rise due to the large number of injured people.
Workers were pouring concrete when a 100-meter section of the bridge suddenly collapsed onto the crowded street below.
Search and rescue operations were under way to reach people believed to be trapped under the concrete slabs. Teams from India’s National Disaster Response Force ((NDRF)) and military personnel were brought in to aid in the rescue effort. Prior to their arrival, residents and firefighters had been trying to free those trapped, using bare hands.
"As soon as we learned about the bridge collapsing, we immediately contacted the state administration and spoke to the state relief commissioner. Immediately we dispatched two rescue teams to the spot. Fortunately both the teams were in the Rajarhat locality of Kolkata and they reached the accident spot and started their operations," NDRF Director General O.P. Singh said.
According to Singh, rescuers are now using sniffer dogs, concrete cutters and special cameras to find people trapped in the rubble. Officials said more than 70 injured people had been admitted to two hospitals in Kolkata.
Witnesses said a number people and vehicles, including two buses carrying more than 100 passengers and several taxis, were under the span when it came down. Construction workers, who were on a tight schedule to complete the bridge, set up camps near the site where they would sleep and cook.
"There was a loud sound which scared us. The concrete had been laid last night at this part of the bridge. I am lucky as I was planning to go downstairs to have juice and while I was thinking only I saw that the bridge collapsed. Scores of people have been killed," said Kolkata resident Ramesh Kerjiwal.
The location of the bridge collapse in a busy commercial district has slowed down the rescue operation, as access for cranes and emergency vehicles is restricted on both sides by buildings and streets are clogged with heavy traffic.
Singh said more teams were being mobilized to the scene and rescuing those trapped was the NRDF’s top priority.
"Our biggest challenge is rescuing the huge number of people who are trapped under the debris. Because there is a lot of concrete so we are using cutters of all sorts to making holes in the debris so that we can make an entry. Only once we gain entry will the situation of the people trapped will become clear," he said.
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