Relatives distraught as rescuers toil in India flyover rubble

2016-04-01 18:02
Indian soldiers and rescue workers search for survivors in a partially collapsed overpass in Kolkata. (Bikas Das, AP)

Indian soldiers and rescue workers search for survivors in a partially collapsed overpass in Kolkata. (Bikas Das, AP)

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Kolkata - At the site of Kolkata's collapsed flyover, the ground covered in white ash, rescuers work in shifts to head into the rubble, hopeful that one or two survivors might still be pulled from the wreckage.

Like every day, Gulab Mali was selling temple paraphernalia such as incense from his street-side stall which sits directly under the flyover when the partially built road bridge crashed down onto a busy street below, killing at east 25 people.

"We were standing a few blocks away and heard this massive thud," said Uona Sankar, Mali's sister-in-law, speaking in Bengali as her niece translated.

"We thought, oh no, where is Gulab? Several members of the family went down to look for him."

The family saw him being pulled out by rescuers and took him to hospital. But Mali was already dead, crushed by falling debris.

"We are devastated," Sankar said.

Down a narrow lane off the main street where the accident occurred, dozens of women dressed in multi-coloured saris sat solemnly as they waited to pay their respects to the family.

Mali's son, aged 30, was due to get married in three weeks' time.

"We can't understand why this has happened to us," said one of Mali's nieces, who declined to give her name.

"All of his relatives loved him."

Curious onlookers

Hundreds of curious onlookers peered over barriers at the accident site to get a glimpse of the mangled mess of metal and rubble, as police officers tried to push them back.

"We are waiting for our orders," said Mantosh Sarkar, a rescue worker, wearing a hard hat and orange high-vis jacket.

Builders who survived the accident say they were cementing two metal girders when they saw bolts coming out and realised it was collapsing under the weight of the concrete.

Yellow diggers lifted debris sprawled across the street. Every so often a barrier would open and a large truck would pass through carrying huge slabs of heavy concrete, its siren blaring.

Hundreds of empty water bottles lay discarded on the road, evidence of the huge rescue effort carried out the night before.

Dressed in white shirts and khaki pants, Subhronil Das was one of 200 volunteers from the Hindu nationalist group RSS who helped to clear the debris.

"The slabs were really heavy, it was very difficult," he said as he left the site.

It was unclear what caused the road's sudden collapse, but police have registered a preliminary case against the contractor, and detained five of its staff.

MP Sharma, 70, lives on the fourth floor of an apartment block which looks directly over the collapsed flyover.

"I'm not an engineer but there was obviously some drawback in the construction," he said, adding that he was considering moving with his grandchild to stay with a relative for safety.

"There will be talk of compensation. But you can't replace the life of a person with rupees."

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