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Kolkata Police Detain Construction Officials After Deadly Road Collapse

At least 24 people died in the collapse of a large section of an overpass Thursday in Kolkata, India.
Bikas Das
At least 24 people died in the collapse of a large section of an overpass Thursday in Kolkata, India.

The death toll has risen to at least 24 in Thursday's collapse of an overpass in a busy intersection in Kolkata, India. Now comes word that police have detained at least five officials from the company that's been building the structure, as forensics teams try to figure out what happened.

Citing local police, The Associated Press reports, "The officials from the IVRCL Infrastructure Co. are being questioned for possible culpable homicide, punishable with life imprisonment, and criminal breach of trust, which carries a prison sentence of up to seven years."

Crews are still working to clear the debris, after tangled steel and chunks of concrete fell on the street with little warning. The process is complicated by the need not to cause more damage in the tight quarters of a densely populated area in the city in eastern India.

"There is no possibility of finding any person alive," says SS Guleria, deputy inspector general of the National Disaster Response Force, according to the Hindustan Times.

Officials from IVRCL Infrastructure, the Hyderabad-based company that's been working on the project for years now, say the devastating collapse was caused after a pillar failed. But the company maintains that the incident was an accident, and that its work is not at fault. One senior IVRCL official drew condemnation Thursday in India by saying it was an act of God.

"The material used in constructing 59 pillars was used in the 60th pillar also. Unfortunately, it collapsed," the Hindustan Times reports another company official as saying Friday.

As we reported yesterday, the construction project has been dragging on for years:

"Last November, India's The Telegraph listed the many obstacles the project still faced, including work days lasting only four to six hours, land rights disputes — and the surprising discovery of underground brick sewers where two support piers for the overpass had been planned."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.