Yesterday, when I was returning home through Rabindra Sarani, near Kalikrishna Tagore street crossing, the place where 27 lives were lost when an under-construction flyover collapsed last year, the Uber driver said, "It's been a year and see, nothing has been done on the bridge. All these political parties are criminals." He then shared some bad jokes about haunting on the bridge... but I digress. The purpose of this blog is to describe my personal experience of how the flyover accident affected my career.
I remember it was a Thursday, like any other. I checked my contacts and found nothing newsworthy happening in the city. So I decided to stay home. Around 12.50pm I got a WhatsApp message from a source who usually gave me political information: "Bhaiya, there's been a calamity at Girish Park." Before I could respond, came another message "At least 10 people have died under the bridge." I asked him what had happened and where and that's when he told me that the incident was at the under-construction Vivekananda Flyover in Girish Park.
I don't think I can ever forget the faces of those who lost their family members. I can still hear the sound of their screams.
I left my home by 1pm and reached Girish Park by 1.30pm. Within these thirty minutes I was checking facts with my other colleagues. They suggested that the number of deaths might be closer to 15 and that hundreds of people were trapped under the debris. When I entered the area I could not take any photographs at first—I was totally confused and traumatised. There were people trapped under the steel bridge. There were blood stains on people's shirts. The police personnel and firemen seemed out of their depth and could not control the situation, although locals banded together and started rescue work. In the meantime I heard two blasts, caused by electric malfunctioning in the tram line. I took some shots there and then managed to enter a six-storey building just beside the accident site.
The whole day I took photos from the rooftop of that house. I saw the Kolkata police, National Disaster Response Force, fire brigade trying hard to rescue people but they are not well trained as army men. Finally army personnel came and started rescue operations. Taxis, auto rickshaws, hand-pulled rickshaws were crushed under the bridge, and rumours went around that there may even be a bus. All the roads were blocked with ambulances and fire engines. Huge cranes and other rescue vehicles were pressed into service to clear the debris and bring out the injured. Family members were moving around with printouts of mothers, fathers and children and asking policemen whether they had been spotted.
I was filing photos to three agencies at a time. My editors were constantly asking for actual numbers of people trapped, injured or dead. It was a 28-hour rescue operation. The next morning the army announced that no one was left trapped under the bridge. As for the casualties? Although the official number is 27 suspicions abound that more may have lost their lives. But those who have lost their loved ones are past caring about investigations, arrests, politics, candlelight vigils... they just want a safe Kolkata.
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This was the most terrible assignment I have done in my short career and I don't think I can ever forget the faces of those who lost their family members. I can still hear the sound of their screams.