14 killed in India as billboard collapses

MUMBAI   -   Police in India’s financial capital have opened a criminal case against the owner of a huge billboard that collapsed on a petrol station and killed 14 people, media reports said Tuesday.

The giant 70 by 50-metre (230 by 164-foot) hoarding in Mumbai’s east collapsed on Monday as fierce winds buffeted the city, accompanied by rain and dust storms.

Local authorities confirmed Tuesday that 14 people had died in the accident with 75 more injured, with rescue operations still underway.

“Medical treatment is currently being provided to 44 injured individuals, with 31 already discharged after receiving treatment,” the city’s municipal corporation said in a post on social media platform X.  “Unfortunately, 14 people (succumbed) to death in this mishap,” it added. “Rescue operations are ongoing at the site.”

Gaurav Chauhan of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) told AFP that the billboard’s collapse on top of a petrol pump had complicated rescue efforts.  “We are not able to use equipment in case of fire and other hazards... so we are using heavy cranes just to remove the debris,” he said. Media reports said Mumbai police had filed a culpable homicide case against the owner of Ego Media, the company identified as having installed the signage.

Shoddy construction

Police in the city could not be reached for comment by AFP on Tuesday morning and there was no sign that the owner had been taken into police custody.

City councillor Rakhee Jadhav told AFP that the collapse was avoidable, blaming shoddy construction.

“This is not a disaster. If this hoarding would have been properly installed... these casualties would have not happened,” she said.

“This area is a marshland and it is also a low-lying area,” she added. “The foundation of that hoarding should have gone more near the rock.”

The storm that hit Mumbai on Munday uprooted trees and caused brief power outages in various neighbourhoods around the city, also disrupting the city’s train network.

Mumbai’s international airport temporarily grounded flights with at least 15 planes diverted.

Eknath Shinde, the chief minister of Maharashtra state, said Monday night that his government had ordered a structural audit of all billboards in Mumbai to prevent any repeat of the accident elsewhere.

His deputy Devendra Fadnavis said on X that his government had ordered a “high-level inquiry” into the accident.

The state government would also make compensation payments of $6,000 (500,000 rupees) to relatives of those killed, he added.

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