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Death toll rises to 14 in Ghatkopar hoarding collapse; search and rescue ops still on

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Rescue and relief work underway near the site of the hoarding collapse at Ghatkopar, in Mumbai, Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Rescue and relief work underway near the site of the hoarding collapse at Ghatkopar, in Mumbai, Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Mumbai: The death toll in the hoarding collapse incident in Mumbai has risen to 14 while 75 others are injured, civic officials on Tuesday said as rescue and search operations continued a day after the tragedy.

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Mumbai Police Commissioner Vivek Phansalkar assured strict action against those responsible for the incident, while the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said it will take down the remaining billboards on the GRP land where the hoarding collapsed.

The 120 x 120 square feet illegal hoarding fell at a petrol pump in Ghatkopar area during dust storms and unseasonal rains that lashed Mumbai on Monday.

Rescue teams were facing a challenge as they cannot use gasoline-powered cutter equipment and oxyfuel cutter which can result in a blast or fire as there is a petrol pump at the site, an official of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said.

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At least 12 fire engines and other vehicles were involved in the search and rescue operation since the incident on Monday. Two NDRF teams, comprising 100 personnel, also joined the operation on Monday evening.

Two heavy duty cranes and two hydra cranes were being used in the operation along with two earth-excavating machines and 25 ambulances, the civic official said.

The NDRF teams used two cranes weighing 500 tonnes each to pull up the hoarding from both sides. After creating a gap of about 3.5 to 4 feet, the rescuers crouched into the tiny space to look for people trapped underneath, NDRF assistant commandant Nikhil Mudholkar said.

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During the search on Monday night, three girders of the hoarding were pulled using two hydraulic cranes. Efforts are underway to pull two more big girders using hydraulic cranes, and once this is done, the NDRF will be able to find out if more people are trapped inside, he said.

So far, 89 persons were pulled out from under the collapsed hoarding, of whom 14 were declared dead, officials said.

The injured persons were admitted to six hospitals in Mumbai and neighbouring Thane and 32 of them were discharged so far, they said.

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The condition of one of the injured persons admitted to the Rajawadi Hospital was critical, a BMC official said.

Police Commissioner Phansalkar visited the spot late Monday evening and assured of strict action against those responsible for the incident.

A case has been registered against Bhavesh Bhinde, the owner of M/s Ego Media Private Limited and others for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and other relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code at Pant Nagar police station, another official said.

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The billboard was illegal and no permission was taken to install it, as per civic officials.

An Assistant Police Commissioner (Admin) had given permission for erecting four hoardings on behalf of the Commissioner of Railway Police, Mumbai, including the one which collapsed, but no official permission or NOC was obtained from the BMC, as per a civic official.

BJP leader Kirit Somaiya asked how the permission for erecting the billboard was given by a police officer when the city civic body is the authority for it.

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The former MP also claimed permissions for the hoarding and a petrol pump (where the billboard collapsed) were given when Uddhav Thackeray was the chief minister of Maharashtra.

Had the then director general of police been strict, such a hoarding would not have come up, he told reporters.

Somaiya said the permission on paper was given for a 40 feet hoarding whereas the billboard which collapsed was 120 feet tall.

"I believe that there are similar 400 hoardings in various parts of Mumbai, which are exceeding their size limits and standing on a weak foundation like the one in Ghatkopar," he said.

Somaiya said he has requested Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis to get such dangerous hoardings removed across Mumbai immediately.

The civic body has prepared a plan to raze the remaining hoardings on the GRP land where the billboard collapsed, an official said.

The BMC had earlier said that it issued a notice to M/s Ego Media Private Limited for installing the hoarding that collapsed on the petrol pump.

A senior civic official said the assistant municipal commissioner of the N-ward had issued a notice to an advertisement agency to remove these hoardings with immediate effect, but the civic body has not received any response so far.

Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra posted a clip on his X handle showing the hoarding collapsing and said such an incident was unacceptable.

"And we're a city trying to transform itself into a modern metropolis. CM Shinde has ordered a probe into all hoardings. Stringent rules must follow," he added.

CM Shinde visited the incident spot late Monday evening and ordered a structural audit of all hoardings in the city.

"The hoardings, if found illegal and dangerous, would be removed immediately," he said.

"It is a very unfortunate incident. The government will probe it, and the people responsible will face action," Shinde told reporters.

He announced an aid of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of each person killed in the incident.

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