Balco chimney crash deaths climb to 26, dozens still trapped (Fourth Lead)September 24th, 2009 - 11:27 pm ICT by IANS
By Sujeet Kumar
Balco Nagar (Chhattisgarh), Sep 24 (IANS) Over 100 rescuers struggled throughout Thursday to save dozens of people suspected to be still trapped under the debris of a 100-metre chimney of the Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (Balco) plant here that crashed Wednesday. At least 26 bodies have been retrieved and the workers are now demanding a CBI probe into the crash.
Facing severe criticism from all quarters for allegedly overlooking safety norms, the Balco management announced a compensation of Rs.500,000 to each of the families of the killed workers.
The Chhattisgarh government too has offered help of Rs.100,000 to each family of those killed but it has maintained silence over a few media reports that the chimney construction was illegal.
District authorities at Korba, about 250 km from Chhattisgarh capital Raipur, said the deaths in the accident could surge once the wreckage of the under-construction 100-metre tower at the coal-fired power plant was cleared. The process might take at least another day or two.
“The rescue operation is under way with a dozen cranes pressed into clearance work, and rescuers are working cautiously to clear debris so that survivors, if any, can be pulled out,” Korba District Collector Ashok Agrawal told IANS.
He said about 50 workers, most of them from Bihar and Jharkhand, could still be under the debris that is strewn over a large area.
The chimney was proposed to be 250 metres tall. Construction of about 100 metres was completed when it crashed, leaving only bottom six metres standing.
Chief Minister Raman Singh made an on-the-spot assessment of the rescue operation while workers shouted slogans against the Balco management and sought a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the accident.
Singh refused to speculate on the number of people trapped.
“I have already ordered a judicial probe that will comprehensively investigate the chimney crash issue,” he told reporters near the site.
Pointing towards the workers, he said: “I can assure you strict action will be taken against those found responsible for overlooking safety aspects.”
Dozens of workers hired by Gannon Dunkerley and Company Ltd (GDCL) for construction of the 275-metre chimney for the 1,200 MW coal-fired power plant and several others who were at the canteen and store rooms close to the crashed chimney are missing and are believed to be under the debris, state Minister Brijmohan Agrawal told IANS.
Agrawal, who is supervising the rescue operation, said substandard construction material used could be the reason for the chimney collapse.
The Balco management and GDCL officials avoided visiting the crash site throughout Thursday fearing attacks by workers.
At the site, dozens of workers and women were beating their chests and crying, fearing the worst for their kin and colleagues.
“It came crashing like thunder. For a moment, I thought it was the sound of thunder as it was raining heavily at the time. But I soon realised that it was the chimney that was coming down,” Dayaram, a 28-year-old worker, told IANS at the Balco hospital where he was recovering from his injuries.
He was near the crash site when the accident occurred around 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Both his legs were fractured as he was hit by parts of the chimney.
“I was in a group of eight colleagues. We began running to avoid the crumbling structure. I can’t believe I am alive,” said the contract worker from Bihar’s Vaishali district.