Tue, Oct 03, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Montreal highway checked minutes before collapsing

FAULTY INSPECTION In spite of a complaint that the overpass was shedding pieces, the ministry said it found nothing to warrant a closure of the highway

AFP , MONTREAL

Authorities inspected and cleared a highway overpass that collapsed in a Montreal suburb, killing five people, just minutes before vast sections of the structure came crashing down, officials in Canada said on Sunday.

Quebec Transport Minister Michel Despres told reporters on Sunday that the overpass was inspected just 40 minutes before it fell, after police received a complaint that it was shedding pieces, one as large as a basketball.

"Somebody from the ministry was on site and picked up the fallen concrete pieces, evaluated the situation, but found nothing to warrant an immediate closure of this overpass," he said.

The structure was also found to be sound when it was inspected in May last year.

In addition to the five deaths, six people were also injured after the overpass in the Montreal suburb of Laval collapsed, crushing two vehicles and sending four others crashing down.

"Six people were taken to hospital yesterday, three in critical condition. Overnight, we pulled five bodies from two cars crushed underneath a huge slab of concrete," police spokesman Jayson Gauthier said.

Massive cranes and dozens of rescuers worked through the night Saturday into Sunday to lift the concrete blocks after three lanes of the overpass on Boulevard de la Concorde connecting Laval to the island of Montreal collapsed.

The reason for the accident, which happened at 12:37pm on Saturday has not been determined, officials said, but a public inquiry will be held to search for answers.

"We still cannot explain it," he added. "None of our experts know why a young structure, a modern structure like this one fell."

The overpass was built some 30 years ago, he said.

As a precaution another nearby bridge built the same year has been closed temporarily and 20 others of a similar design would be inspected over the next 48 hours for possible dangers, he said.

Six people, all adults, were immediately pulled from the rubble and taken to two hospitals, where they remain.

Others trapped under the debris were believed to be dead, with Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt saying: "We expect to find some dead underneath the collapsed overpass when we clear the rubble."

"It fell like a house of cards. It fell literally in two pieces," said Manon Joly, a motorist who barely avoided the accident.

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