Houston Community News >> Deadly Bridge Collapse in China Kills 22

8/20/2007 Beijing (AP)-- A bridge being built as a tourist attraction in central China collapsed, killing at least 22 people and leaving 46 missing, China Central Television reported Tuesday.

The official Xinhua News Agency said 64 people were rescued, including 22 who were injured when the 328-meter (1,076-foot) bridge spanning the Tuo River in Hunan province collapsed Monday. The cause of the collapse was under investigation, it said.

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

The 42-meter (140-foot) -high bridge in Hunan's Fenghuang county had four decorative stone arches and was scheduled to open at the end of this month, Xinhua 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 ethnic minority. It is also famed for traditional stilt houses lining the Tuo River.

CCTV showed bulldozers plowing through the rubble, overturning chunks of stone and concrete mixed in a tangle of steel reinforcement bars.

Xinhua said Hunan Governor Zhou Qiang was at the scene overseeing rescue efforts.

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 50 meters (160 feet) 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."

Wu, a cleaning lady at a local hotel, said there were houses underneath the bridge and she had heard that friends who lived there had died but wasn't clear how many.

Xinhua said the bridge was a 12 million yuan (US$1.6 million; 1.2 million) project by the Fengda company of western Hunan. It said the contractor was the provincial Road and Bridge Construction (Group) Ltd. Co., or RBC.

RBC construction manager Xia Youjia and project supervisor Jiang Ping were detained for questioning, it said.

Construction accidents in China are frequent, with contractors often opting for shoddy materials to cut costs and using migrant laborers with little or no safety training.

The Fenghuang collapse is among the worst in recent memory. On June 15, a bridge in south China's Guangdong province collapsed when a cargo vessel loaded with sand rammed into it, killing nine people. That bridge was built in 1988 and spanned the Xijiang River, a major tributary of the Pearl River.

In January 1999 a pedestrian bridge spanning the Qi River in southwestern China's Sichuan province collapsed three years after it was built. Forty people died and another 14 were injured.

Following the accident, a local county deputy party secretary was sentenced to death for accepting a bribe from a childhood friend in exchange for the bridge-building contract.

The accident highlighted concerns among Chinese leaders and the general public about breakneck development and pervasive corruption among officials.

In its annual report on road safety last year, the Ministry of Communications categorized 6,300 of the country's bridges as dangerous because of serious damage to their "structural components," the China Daily newspaper reported Tuesday.

The newspaper report didn't give specifics but quoted Xiao Rucheng, secretary general of China's Institute of Bridge and Structural Engineering, as saying many of the country's new bridges were being built too quickly and were poorly designed.

The newspaper quoted Xiao as saying that China should "learn a lesson from the Mississippi bridge and accelerate the inspection of unsafe bridges," referring to the Aug. 1 collapse of the bridge in Minnesota that killed at least nine people.

The China Daily also ran an editorial Tuesday saying rising traffic levels made the need for nationwide bridge repairs and upgrades an urgent issue.

"If left unrepaired these bridges may crumble at any time, (wreaking) economic havoc and possibly claiming human lives," it said, without mentioning the Fenghuang disaster, which wasn't reported by state media until late Monday. 

(Contributed by Beijing AP)