MUMBAI—At least 24 people were killed and 80 others injured when an under-construction overpass collapsed in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, officials said.
“We have recovered 18 dead bodies,” Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, of which Kolkata is the capital, told reporters Thursday. At least 78 people were known to be trapped under the debris, while 16 more had been hospitalized, she added. Some 5,000 personnel were engaged in rescue work, Ms. Banerjee said.
The number of casualties could rise as officials try to lift a large metal truss that fell onto people and passing cars, a police official said. Some police personnel were also suspected to be trapped under the debris, an official at the Kolkata police control room said by telephone.
The overpass was being built in the city’s densely populated Bara Bazar neighborhood.
Maj. Gen. Anurag Gupta, an adviser for operations at India’s federal rescue agency, the National Disaster Management Authority, said five teams had reached the site. Rescue operations were continuing, with 63 people pulled from the debris, he said. The Indian Army is assisting, Gen. Gupta said.
Footage on local TV channels showed the bridge collapsing, with people and cars on the busy road beneath it disappearing beneath the rubble.
“It is an act of God,” K. Panduranga Rao, head of human resources and administration at contractor IVRCL Ltd., the company that was building the overpass, told reporters. “We are shocked to know how this instance has happened.”
India’s efforts to rapidly build critical infrastructure, including overpasses over existing, crowded roads, means construction is often undertaken without adequate precautions to isolate sites.
The overpass was being built by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority, a government agency tasked with building infrastructure in the city, said Soumitra Bhattacharya, director general of Kolkata’s Roads Department, a separate government agency. The road underneath the overpass was always densely crowded, he said. He declined to comment on whether regulations were followed. Officials at the development authority weren’t immediately available for comment.
The project’s construction was checked by third-party consultants as well as the government commissioning agency, the KMDA, Mr. Rao said. Some 40 employees of the firm were working on the project at the time of collapse, and two were still missing, he said.
Late Thursday, Ms. Banerjee said Kolkata police had filed a complaint against IVRCL. The police also raided and sealed three company in the city offices but didn’t find any employees there. An inquiry has been set up under the state’s top bureaucrat to investigate the accident, Ms. Banerjee said.
“IVRCL grieves the loss of precious lives and injuries to people and will cooperate with the authorities in investigating this accident,” the company said in a filing to local stock exchanges. In the filing, the company said it is awaiting details on the cause of the accident and it will do “its utmost to find the causes.”
The bridge construction was the toughest of all projects undertaken by the KMDA under a federal grants program, according to information about the project on the website of contractor IVRCL. The website of the engineering and construction company, based in the southern city of Hyderabad, said construction took place in a “very congested area” that hampered the movement of heavy equipment.
“Shocked & saddened by collapse of under construction flyover in Kolkata. Took stock of the situation & rescue operations,” a tweet on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s account said.
“Monumental tragedy. Rescue ops on. Many feared dead,” said a tweet from the verified account of local lawmaker Derek O’Brien, a member of Parliament for West Bengal.