Updated May 3rd, 2024 at 17:39 IST

China Bridge Collapse: At Least 48 Dead as Vice-Premier Dispatched to Oversee Recovery Efforts

The dispatch of the Vice Premier illustrates Beijing's concern about a public backlash over the disaster, the latest in a series of infrastructure failures.

After the collapse of a bridge section in southern China, dozens of vehicles were sent tumbling down the steep slope. | Image:AP
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Beijing: China has sent a vice premier to oversee recovery efforts and urged better safety measures after a highway collapse killed at least 48 people in the country’s mountainous south. The official Xinhua News Agency on Friday said Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing had “stressed sparing no effort in carrying out rescue and relief work.”

The dispatch of Zhang, who is also a member of one of the ruling Communist Party's leading bodies, illustrates the concern over a possible public backlash over the disaster, the latest in a series of deadly infrastructure failures.

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References to the collapse, which left a huge gash in the side of a cliff over which the highway was built, largely disappeared from public media on Friday.

Zhang's presence follows calls by President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party's number two official, Premier Li Qiang, to swiftly handle the tragedy. About 30 other victims were hospitalised. Three people were being identified by DNA samples, though it wasn’t clear whether they had died as well.

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One side of the four-lane highway in the city of Meizhou gave way about 02:00 on Wednesday after a month of heavy rains in Guangdong province.

Twenty-three vehicles plunged into a deep ravine, some bursting into flames and sending up thick clouds of smoke.

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“Lessons should be drawn from the collapse and more should be done to improve disaster prevention and response capabilities, ensuring the safety of people’s lives and property and the overall social stability,” Xinhua quoted the vice premier as saying.

Zhang also called for closer monitoring of weather patterns during the annual summer flooding season that strikes large swathes of central and southern China and for an improvement in early warning systems and response times.

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No official word has been issued about any arrests or investigation into the collapse, which followed unusually intense weather, including hailstorms and an April 27 tornado that struck Guangdong's capital of Guangzhou, killing five and injuring 33.

More heavy rain is forecast, with many flights headed south through the region cancelled or delayed.

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Over 56 centimetres (22 inches) of rain has fallen in the past four weeks in the county where the roadway collapsed, more than four times as much as last year. Some villages in Meizhou were flooded in early April, and the city has received additional rain in recent days.

The Ministry of Emergency Management also issued an urgent circular urging officials to “draw lessons from the road collapse and take concrete measures to prevent similar accidents.”

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The highway section collapsed on the first day of a five-day May Day holiday, when many Chinese travel at home and abroad.

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Published May 3rd, 2024 at 17:25 IST