NEW DELHI (CNN) — An overpass collapsed Thursday in the Indian city of Kolkata, crushing vehicles below it, killing at least 17 people and leaving dozens more missing, authorities said.
Maj. Gen. Anurag Gupta, from India’s National Disaster Management Authority, told CNN early Thursday evening that authorities didn’t then know how many people were driving across the bridge when it fell or how many more remained trapped.
“We cannot predict how many people are still under wreckage,” Gupta said. “We can’t tell, since it’s a bridge and not a building.”
Local officials at the scene said that in addition to those killed, more than 100 others suffered injuries in the midday collapse in a busy commercial area north of Kolkata’s center.
Sgt. Saurav Benerjee of Kolkata police had said, at one point, that more than 100 were unaccounted for — though that only means their whereabouts are unknown, not that that they’re all necessarily trapped.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was “shocked and saddened by (the) collapse of (the) under construction flyover.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives in Kolkata,” Modi added. “May the injured recover at the earliest.”
At least 71 pulled from rubble
India’s army has deployed four columns of rescue personnel, according to a tweet from a representative of the Indian Ministry of Defense. Three medical teams with two ambulances, doctors and nursing assistants are also there.
And the National Disaster Response Force has five teams at the site, with two more on the way.
Video showed swarms of people on the scene in Girish Park, a crowded neighborhood with many wholesale markets, where one section of the flyover overpass had fallen off. Some carried out pieces of debris, and others used fire hoses to spray water around the debris.
They managed to pull at least 71 injured people from the rubble, said Maj. Gen. Anurag Gupta of India’s National Disaster Management Authority. It’s not clear if those were among the 100-plus people unaccounted for mentioned by Benerjee.
Speaking on local TV from the collapse site, Mamata Banerjee — the chief minister for West Bengal state, of which Kolkata is the capital — announced that relatives of those killed in the collapse would get roughly the equivalent of $7,500 (American dollars).
Those critically injured, meanwhile, would get about $3,000 each.
Other collapses around South Asia
It was around midday — which would have been a busy time in that part of Kolkata, one of India’s biggest cities — when slabs from the flyover fell on moving vehicles below, Benerjee said.
That overpass had been under construction for five years, a duration that CNN’s Mallika Kapur in Mumbai said is not unusual in India.
Did that work have something to do with the collapse? Or did something else cause it?
Authorities didn’t immediately say, focusing first on the rescue operation.
Deadly accidents like these have happened before.
Nine people died when a three-story residential building in the Thane district of Maharashtra state collapsed last July.
Five years earlier, several people were critically injured when a pedestrian bridge under construction in New Delhi fell while workers were laying a concrete slab, said Rakesh Mishra, chief engineer of New Delhi’s Public Works Department.
Other parts of South Asia have seen similar incidents — both in structures under construction and those that had been standing for years.
A four-story building in the northwestern Pakistani city of Lahore undergoing construction on its fourth floor collapsed in November, killing at least 23 people and injuring 80 others, local official Muhammad Usman said.
And on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, more than 1,000 people died when a poorly constructed garment factory caved in almost three years ago.