Raipur, Sept. 23: An under-construction chimney at a plant of the Bharat Aluminium Company Limited (Balco) in Chhattisgarh caved in this evening apparently after a lightning strike, crushing to death at least 24 workers who had taken shelter from blinding rain in a store-room.
The toll could go up as more than three dozen workers are still reported to be trapped in the debris at the plants premises in Korba, about 220km north of Raipur.
Sources said most of those killed were labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Many of the bodies have been mutilated.
Balco is setting up a 1200MW captive power plant in its Korba facility.
Sepco, a Chinese company, was awarded the contract for building the power plant, while engineering firm GDCL was in charge of constructing the 275-metre tall chimney. GDCL had completed constructing 110 metres.
Angry workers blamed the management for the accident and did not allow the bodies to be shifted from the site.
Unconfirmed reports said the labourers lynched an employee of GDCL, blaming the company for the accident. The body of the employee was discovered about 300 metres from the accident site.
Initially, we thought the person had fallen from the chimney after it collapsed, but there were injury marks that underlined that he was brutally beaten up, said a police official in Korba. The body could not be identified since officials and employees of Sepco and GDCL fled the site after the incident.
Sources said Korba was lashed by heavy rain since this afternoon. While most of the workers Ś about 150 them were present at the site Ś were on the job, about two dozen of them took shelter in a nearby store-room.
Around 4pm, lightning struck the area and the huge chimney came crashing down, a source said.
The heavy structure caved in on the store-room, giving the workers no room to escape.
Korba district collector Ashok Agrawal said rescue teams had so far recovered 24-25 bodies from the site while over three dozen workers could still be trapped in the debris, spread over a 200-metre area.
Since the plant had limited resources, we called in cranes from nearby places to start rescue work, which could go on through the night, Agrawal said.