Dozens still trapped as rescuers struggle in Balco Nagar


District authorities at Korba, about 250 km from Chhattisgarh capital Raipur, said the death toll could surge once the wreckage from the under-construction tower at the coal-fired power plant was cleared. Officials said about 50 workers, most of them from Bihar and Jharkhand, could still be trapped.
Senior state minister Brijmohan Agrawal, who is here to supervise the rescue operation, refused to speculate on the numbers but said dozens of workers were missing and could be trapped.

"A case against the Balco management has been registered and a judicial probe has been ordered to punish the guilty, but our total focus now is to rescue people trapped and retrieve bodies."
"Dozens of workers hired by Gannon Dunkerley and Company Ltd (GDCL) that had bagged the award for construction work of the 275-metre-high chimney for the 1,200 MW coal-fired power plant, besides several workers who were at the canteen and store rooms close to the crashed chimney, are missing and believed to be under the debris," Agrawal told IANS.

The minister travelled overnight by road from Raipur to reach the crash site early Thursday on the directives of Chief Minister Raman Singh amid reports that scores of workers, whose relatives were trapped in the wreckage, had gone on the rampage against Balco and GDCL and that some company officials had been beaten up.
There were angry tears as people, including women, gathered at the crash site in Balco Nagar through the night fearing the worst for their colleagues and holding the Balco management entirely responsible.

"It (the tower) came crashing like thunder. For a moment, I thought it's the sound of lightning as it was raining heavily at the time. But I soon realised that it was the chimney that was coming down," Dayaram, 28, a worker who was passing through the crash site when the tragedy struck at about 4 p.m. Wednesday, told IANS at Balco hospital where he was recovering from his injuries.

"I was in a group of eight colleagues. We began running to avoid the crumbling structure. I can't believe I am alive," the contract worker from Bihar, who has fractured both his legs, said.
Korba district police chief Ratanlal Dangi, stationed at the crash site, said the chimney had reached the height of over 100 metres before it caved in amid lightning and heavy rain.

Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd, which holds 51 percent stake in Balco while the remaining 49 percent is held by the Indian government, is investing heavily to double the production capacity. Balco presently produces 345,000 tonnes aluminium per annum.
Officials say the under-construction thermal plant - of two units of 600 MW each - is aimed at generating power to help Balco achieve its increased production target.

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