Kolkata: Strewn body parts, splattered blood, mangled vehicles and people wailing – Kolkata’s bustling Ganesh Talkies crossing resembled a war zone on Thursday after a flyover under construction came crashing over people and motorists.
It was business as usual on the busy street – one of the oldest and the busiest thoroughfares of the city – before mayhem struck at around 12.25.
“Suddenly I heard a rumbling sound. Before I could realise what it was, I saw the flyover crashing down, crushing people and vehicles,” said Raju Shaw, who runs a paan shop.
Scores of people like Shaw braved the fallen rubble to rush to rescue the victims buried under the debris.
Carrying the injured on their backs, the bravehearts began ferrying the injured to the nearest hospital. Others offered water to those had escaped with minor injuries but were too dazed.
Having cheated death by a whisker, street vendor Bimal Das also lent his hand in the rescue work before soldiers, the NDRF and Disaster Management Group poured in to clear the tonnes of rubble.
“I am lucky to have escaped certain death. The moment I heard the rumble, I ran to the opposite side thinking it to be an earthquake,” said Das.
He is still stunned by the tragedy that has claimed 14 lives and left at least 78 seriously injured.
Besides numerous pedestrians, cyclists and street vendors, witnesses said that several vehicles including a crowded mini bus and taxis were trapped beneath the iron and mortar rubble.
The death toll is likely to shoot up.
A video of the disaster showed the Vivekananda Road Flyover – whose foundation was laid in 2008 and where work began in February 2009 – suddenly crashing with a roar, giving no time for anyone under it to escape.
With the collapsed flyover covering the entire road, rescue operations were badly hampered as cranes found it difficult to reach the spot. Later, people formed human chains to regulate the flow of soldiers.
Besides lending a hand in the rescue work, the locals also provided drinking water to army and NDRF personnel who worked tirelessly, cutting through the mangled iron girders and mortars looking for survivors.
Several voluntary blood donation camps quickly came up. Many donors rushed to various hospitals. Several blood banks offered blood free of cost for the victims.
The tech savvy used social networking sites and WhatsApp to communicate useful information including the hospitals where the injured had been admitted and the helpline numbers put up by the government.
Cancelling her election rallies in West Midnapore district, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to the spot and immediately took charge of the rescue operations.
Using a loudhailer, she repeatedly urged the hundreds of onlookers not to crowd the site and hamper the rescue work.
She announced in a sombre voice: “So far 14 people have died and 70 others have injured.”
Banerjee asked police to control the crowds, ordered floodlights to be arranged at the site and drinking water provided to the media persons.
Besides announcing ex-gratia of Rs.5 lakh to the families of the dead and Rs.2 lakh for the injured, Banerjee promised action against the company engaged in building the flyover.
“The guilty will not be spared. We will take action,” said Banerjee. The construction company, IVRCL Infrastructure, described the disaster an “act of God”.