100 feared dead in Indian chimney collapse

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RAIPUR: Rescuers searched desperately for survivors on Thursday in the rubble of a giant chimney that collapsed in central India, with a top union official saying more than 100 workers were feared dead, AFP reported. Labourers had completed 100 metres of the planned 275-metre power plant chimney when the structure came crashing down in bad weather on Wednesday.

Police said 25 bodies had been recovered but dozens more were believed to be buried under a vast pile of concrete at the site in Korba, 200 kms from Raipur, the state capital of Chhattisgarh.

‘I expect the number of dead will cross 100,’ said Vinod Kumar Sharma, general secretary of the workers’ union at aluminium group Balco, a subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta, which was building the power plant chimney.

Sharma said his estimate was based on testimony from union members near the scene of the accident, who said workers were sheltering from heavy rain in and around the structure when it collapsed at about 3:45 pm local time.

‘Only nine people who are in the hospital are alive. The others are dead,’ he said. ‘It is a major tragedy. It is very sad for the poor families.’

Police and government officials said they were having difficulty establishing how many people were buried because the company has been unable to say how many workers were on the site.

A majority of the victims were migrant labourers from the eastern states of Jharkhand and Bihar, officials said.

‘The death toll has risen to 25,’ said state police spokesman R.K. Vij. ‘The rescue teams will continue the search until all the rubble is cleared.’

Union official Sharma said an average shift would have seen 55-70 people working directly on the chimney, with dozens more on the ground.

‘The chance of finding survivors is getting very bleak,’ police Officer Ratanlal Dangi said by phone from the site.

‘We are facing great difficulty in removing the concrete. Once the debris is removed, we will be able to rescue people or find bodies.’

Deadly construction site accidents are relatively common in India, where health and safety rules are routinely flouted, but a builders’ labour group said this incident was bad even by Indian standards.

‘It is one of the worst accidents in India’s recent construction history,’ said Rajeev Sharma, South Asia head of Building and Wood Workers’ International.

K.C. Gupta, director general of the National Safety Council of India, said the disaster was the latest in a string of fatal accidents in the construction sector.

They include the collapse of a partially built bridge on the flagship Delhi Metro project that killed five in July and an accident during the construction of a flyover in the southern city of Hyderabad.

No accurate up-to-date figures exist for the number of occupational accidents and deaths in India, but the UN’s International Labour Organisation has estimated that 50,000 people die here each year from work-related causes.

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