Mon, Aug 20, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Rescuers in China find more victims of bridge collapse

AP , BEIJING

The death toll in the collapse of a bridge in southern China jumped to 64 after rescuers found 17 bodies in the rubble, a state news agency said.

It was unclear how many victims might still be buried under the wreckage of last Monday's collapse in the tourist town of Fenghuang, the Xinhua news agency said on Saturday, citing rescue officials.

On Friday, rescuers blasted away stone and concrete to search under the rubble of the bridge, which collapsed while under construction.

Many of those killed in one of China's worst building accidents in years were construction workers. Xinhua said it was uncertain how many had been working on the bridge, because they came from seven companies and some were day laborers.

Most state media were banned from reporting on the disaster and local officials punched journalists and chased them from the scene, reporters said.

The reporting ban, issued by the Central Propaganda Department, came on Thursday as reporters swarmed Fenghuang.

Unidentified residents of the area roughed up five reporters as they interviewed relatives of the dead, a photographer and a reporter said.

They declined to be identified, saying they feared reprisals.

Officials have promised a thorough investigation into the collapse and punishment for any wrongdoing.

The accident raises troubling questions about shoddy building and possible corruption between officials and contractors -- suspicions fueled by trying to control reporting on the disaster.

"The local government does not want the media to uncover the collapse," said Li Datong (李大同), a veteran journalist forced from a top editing job two years ago for running reports that angered authorities.

Li said reporters had told him of the harassment in Fenghuang.

All of China's media are state controlled, but some outlets have begun to engage in lively, aggressive reporting.

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