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6 killed in New Delhi metro bridge collapse

A sixth person has died in the collapse of a bridge being built for the Indian capital's metro rail, police said today, as the government prepared to investigate the prestigious project's worst-ever accident.

Authorities are rushing to complete six more segments of the New Delhi Metro system - which already has three operational lines - ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The metro is the pride of the city of 14 million, where commuters were long forced to rely on rickshaws, motorcycles or smoke-belching buses.

The accident occurred early yesterday on a particularly tricky section, where metal cantilever was being raised to lift a 300-ton prefabricated concrete segment of the bridge.

It all tumbled down in a V-shaped pile, crushing workers underneath. Metro spokesman Anuj Dayal said it appears cracks had developed on a pillar cap, which caused a section of the bridge to be displaced.

New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said six people were killed and 15 injured. He did not give details, but the Hindustan Times newspaper said the dead included five workers, whose deaths were reported yesterday, and a junior engineer.

Bhagat said police have started criminal investigations into the accident.

In addition, New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said the government will appoint an expert panel from universities and technology institutions to find the accident's cause.

"I don't think we can afford to have accidents like this," she said.

Dikshit also rejected the resignation offered by E. Sreedharan, the head of the Delhi Metro Rail Corp.

Sreedharan, who celebrated his 77th birthday yesterday, has been hailed as a modern-day hero for his integrity in making the metro rail a reality. Its first line opened on schedule about seven years ago - an almost unheard-of feat in India, where corruption-related overruns are common.

"I do not think we should blow this incident out of all proportions. Sreedharan should get unqualified compliments for the work" he has done so far, Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said.

Sunday's accident is a rare blemish in the largely successful project. But in October last year, two people were killed and at least 11 injured in a similar accident at a metro construction site.

Authorities are rushing to complete several extensions totaling about 60 miles (100 kilometers) before the October 2010 Commonwealth Games. Sreedharan said the project would be delayed for at least three months.

The accident caused a damage worth 60 million rupees (US$1.25 million), he said.

The highly efficient and clean metro rail system is the third mass urban transport system in the country.


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