Highway overpass collapses in India, killing at least 18

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LUCKNOW, India (AP) — A highway overpass being built in north India collapsed, killing at least 18 people when an immense concrete slab slammed down onto the crowded road below, disaster officials said.

Five injured people were pulled from the wreckage, police said. Two were seriously hurt.

Local media reports said that four officials from the state construction agency were suspended in the wake of the collapse on Tuesday.

Rescuers and crane operators worked through the night in the city of Varanasi to try to reach all the victims, but more people were still feared trapped beneath the wreckage, which had crushed four cars, motorcycles and a bus. It was not clear how many people were in the vehicles. The slab appeared to be at least 50 feet (15 meters) long and 6 feet (2 meters) wide.

"There was sudden rumble and within seconds we saw" the vehicles crushed, local resident Ramesh Kumar Singh said in a telelphone interview. "It took at least a minute for the people around to realize what exactly had happened."

People crowd around the site of an accident where a section of an under construction overpass collapsed in Varanasi, India, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. A highway overpass being built in north India has collapsed, with disaster officials saying at least a dozen
People crowd around the site of an accident where a section of an under construction overpass collapsed in Varanasi, India, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. A highway overpass being built in north India has collapsed, with disaster officials saying at least a dozen
People crowd around the site of an accident where a section of an under construction overpass collapsed in Varanasi, India, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. A highway overpass being built in north India has collapsed, with disaster officials saying more than a doze
People crowd around the site of an accident where a section of an under construction overpass collapsed in Varanasi, India, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. A highway overpass being built in north India has collapsed, with disaster officials saying more than a doze

Most of those killed were in vehicles traveling beneath the overpass, said senior police officer P.V. Ramasastry.

The state's top official ordered a probe into the collapse. He also announced a 500,000 rupee ($7,200) payment to families of those who died.

India has a long history of construction accidents caused by poor materials and inadequately trained workers. In 2016, a long stretch of elevated road being built through the city of Calcutta collapsed, killing 26 people and leaving 11 severely injured.

Prime Minister Narendra, whose political home is in Varanasi, said in a tweet that he was "extremely saddened" by the accident. "I pray that the injured recover soon."

Varanasi, an ancient temple city on the banks of the Ganges River, is a center of pilgrimage for Hindus.

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