Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Bridge collapse in Hunan Province claims at least 29

AP , BEIJING

At least 29 people were killed after a bridge under construction in a popular Chinese tourist town collapsed as more than 100 workers were removing scaffolding, the government said yesterday.

So far, 86 people have been rescued, including 22 who were injured when the bridge spanning the Tuo River in central Hunan Province collapsed on Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said. Five were in critical condition.

It was not clear how many people were missing. An estimated 123 workers were at the site at the time of the collapse, but rescuers were trying to come up with an exact count.

The cause of the collapse of the 268m bridge was under investigation, the Hunan Administration of Work Safety said in a statement posted on the official Gov.cn Web site. Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) ordered a thorough investigation into the accident, China Central Television reported.

The accident came less than two weeks after the collapse of a bridge in Minnesota that drew attention to aging transport infrastructure in the US.

The 42m-high bridge in Hunan's Fenghuang County had four decorative stone arches and was scheduled to open at the end of this month, the administration said. It collapsed as workers were removing scaffolding from its facade, it said.

Surrounded by lush mountains and rice paddies, the ancient city of Fenghuang is a well-known tourist spot and home to the Miao and Tujia ethnic minorities. It is also famed for traditional stilt houses lining the Tuo River.

China Central Television showed bulldozers plowing through the rubble, overturning chunks of stone and concrete mixed in a tangle of steel reinforcement bars. News photos showed anxious and weeping villagers waiting for news about their loved ones.

Hunan Governor Zhou Qiang (周強) was at the scene overseeing rescue efforts, Xinhua said.

Most of the people working on the bridge were local farmers, the agency said.

"I was riding a bike with my husband and we had just passed under the bridge and were about 50m away when it collapsed," said a witness who would only gave her surname, Wu. "There was a huge amount of dust that came up and didn't clear for about 10 minutes."

Xinhua quoted a villager whose home was just a dozen meters from the site and had been watching the grisly rescue effort.

"Their arms and legs were broken, only linked with skin," Yang Long was quoted as saying.

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