At least 31 people were crushed to death when an under-construction chimney at a new power plant being constructed at Bharat Aluminium Company (Balco) in Korba, 230 km from Raipur, collapsed on Wednesday afternoon. Another 40 people are feared trapped in the debris.
Unconfirmed reports said angry workers then thrashed an employee of the construction company to death. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident.
The company, part of the Vedanta group, is setting up a 1,200-Mw power plant at its aluminium facility. Sepco, a Chinese company, had bagged the award for the power plant, while GDCL was constructing the 275-metre chimney.
Sources quoting witnesses said lightning struck the under-construction chimney at about 4 pm, bringing down the huge concrete structure. More than 100 labourers had been engaged in the work when it had begun to rain. The structure collapsed on a store room where workers had taken shelter from the rain.
Thirty-one bodies have been recovered from the debris, while the rescue and search operation goes on, Korba district collector Ashok Agrawal told Business Standard.
The toll could increase, as it was a major incident and it would take time to clear the debris, he added. The district administration had taken charge, summoning equipment from nearby places to speed the work, Agrawal said, adding that at least five cranes had been pressed into service.
Sources said the heavy rain was hampering the rescue. The administration had made adequate arrangements to carry on at night.
Whether the lynched employee, whose body was found 300 metres from the site, was from Sepco or GDCL could not be confirmed. It appears officials and employees from both companies had fled from the spot. Sources said workers were refusing to allow the bodies to be shifted from the site till the management announced adequate compensation.
District officials were using persuasion.
The Balco management refused to comment, saying everyone was busy in the rescue. An official said all seniors had been told to join in the operation.
The power plant was part of a mega expansion plan. The company was expanding annual capacity by 6,50,000 tonnes. At present, the company produces 3,50,000 tpa of aluminium.
On completion, the capacity will be a million tonnes a year, making Balco the world's largest producer of aluminium from a single location.
Rains, lightning may have caused accident: Sterlite
Sterlite Industries, a part of Vedanta Group, said 'excessive rains and lightning' may be a possible cause for the accident.
"A probable reason for the incident appears to be the excessive rains and lightning at Korba," Sterlite Industries said in a statement to the National Stock Exchange.
"The exact cause for this will, however, be ascertained only after a detailed investigation is concluded," it further said.