At least eight persons were killed and several others were feared trapped under huge coal and soil dump near the Kulda opencast coal mine of Mahanadi Coalfields Limited, at about 50 km from district headquarter town of Sundargarh in Odisha on Saturday.

The incident took place around 9 am when a portion of overburden caved in as a large group of people from nearby villages were collecting coal pieces from near the base of overburden.

By 5 pm, bodies of eight persons had been recovered from the spot. The rescue operation is likely to continue till Sunday. Officials of Hemgiri Police station deployed at the site said chance of anybody surviving under the overburden was remote.

Sundargarh district administration had no clue as to how many villagers had come to collect coal pieces from the overburden on Saturday. Meanwhile, excavation machines had been deployed to retrieve bodies from inside the dump.

MCL authorities dismissed the allegations of any laxity that led to the accident. “Before mining operation, we remove top soil which contains shale coal (low quality coal). The soil mixed with coal is stored near the mine site. Gradually, the heap gets bigger. We generally undertake plantation on the overburden to stabilise it. Since, the Kulda opencast mine is in operation, the stabilization process has not been taken up,” said Dikken Mehra, MCL spokesperson.

Mr. Mehra said MCL had time and again warned locals not to go nearer the overburden. “Continuous rain during past fortnight had weakened the overburden. On Saturday, a big portion of the overburden caved leading to fatal accident.”

“No victim has anything to do with MCL. They are local people who collect shale coal for their own consumption. MCL, however, deployed a team comprising of senior officials to oversee and help in the rescue operation,” he said.

Meanwhile, local residents staged protest at the mishap sites demanding compensation from MCL. They alleged that the company had not taken any precautionary measure to prevent people from getting near site.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has ordered an administrative inquiry by Revenue Divisional Commissioner (North) into to the incident. He announced compensation of Rs. 2 lakh each to families of deceased.