Kolkata: At least 18 people were killed when a flyover under construction crashed in a crowded market area here on Thursday, crushing scores of unsuspecting people and vehicles, police and witnesses said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who rushed to Kolkata after cancelling election rallies in West Midnapore district, said 70 others had been injured in the ghastly disaster which occurred around 12.30 p.m.
"So far 18 people have been killed in this tragic incident. We have been able to rescue over 70 people who were admitted to various hospitals with injuries. Most of them have been discharged," said Banerjee, who rushed to Kolkata after cancelling election rallies in West Midnapore district.
A National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) official put the number of injured at around 100.
Hundreds of locals were the first to reach the site at Posta area in the city's northern part to see how best they could rescue those buried in the heaps of debris before official rescue workers and police joined them.
The army too deployed dozens of medical teams and engineers. Police and military ambulances raced to the site and transported the badly injured as as well as nearly dying to hospitals.
The soldiers are using specialized equipment to rescue those trapped under tonnes of steel and concrete, a defence ministry spokesman said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed "shock" over the tragedy. "My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives," he tweeted. "May the injured recover at the earliest."
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he had spoken to NDRF Director General O.P. Singh to coordinate relief work.
A police officer at the site said he saw 10 to 12 people being taken out from the debris but was not sure if they were alive.
The accident spot represented a horrific site. Body parts were strewn in the debris. Blood was splattered on the streets.
A video of the disaster showed the Vivekananda 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.
"There was a sudden thundering noise" as the flyover crashed, a witness said. He said he saw the flyover collapse over taxis, auto-rickshaws and other vehicles besides people who were walking under it.
Among the vehicles which were caught up in the disaster were a mini bus, two taxis and three auto-rickshaws.
"More than 100 people must have been (buried) beneath it... It is a huge loss," the witness said.
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.
The chief minister announced a compensation of Rs.5 lakh to the families of the dead, Rs.2 lakh each for the critically injured and Rs.1 lakh for those who suffered minor injuries.
The long-delayed 2.5-km flyover was expected to tackle congestion in Burra Bazar area - the location of one of the largest wholesale markets in Asia - up to the Howrah station, the gateway to the city.
It was scheduled to be ready in 2012 but land acquisition issues delayed its completion. The implementing agency too ran into financial troubles.
The state government has opened an Emergency Operations Centre, which is functioning at the state secretariat. The contact number is 1070.
Another control room with number 0332145326 has also been opened.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the incident was a clear proof of corruption in West Bengal.
BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayavargiya said: "It's an example and proof of the corruption by the Mamata government. People of state will not forgive her."