Search for bodies after river bridge plunge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am

The search was continuing last night for people in six vehicles believed to have plunged into Guangdong's West River, or Xijiang, after a sand barge struck a support of the Jiujiang Bridge early yesterday.

'We are using sonar to search for people and the vehicles that might be missing in the accident,' Nanhai district spokesman Mai Shaoqiang said.

'We also sent divers down, but nothing has been found so far.'

The Yangcheng Evening News said two road workers on the bridge when it was hit were missing, but Mr Mai could not confirm that.

The 1,590-tonne barge carrying 2,000 tonnes of sand struck the support about 5am after illegally steaming into the main channel. The accident brought down a 200-metre section of the bridge.

Most of the vessel was submerged under the collapsed sections, its stern forced out of the water.

'There were 10 crew members on the boat,' Mr Mai said. 'Two had a few scrapes but the rest were fine.'

Fisherman Huang Shusheng , 56, said he was asleep on his boat 1km away when he was woken by a loud bang.

He had decided not to go fishing because it had been so foggy on Thursday night.

'Maybe the boat hit the bridge because of the fog, but I didn't think it could damage the bridge that badly,' Mr Huang said.

He said the bases of the piers might be unstable after more than 20 years of sand mining.

'I am afraid the base must be empty by now,' Mr Huang said.

The 1.6km bridge was built in 1988 and forms part of the transport link connecting Foshan and Jiangmen .

Officials in the Hong Kong's transport industry said the collapse would have little impact on transport between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Chiu Chi-keung, chairman of the Container Transportation Employees General Union, said the cities affected most 'are quite remote, and people prefer to use water transport because it is cheaper. The impact of the collapse is very limited.'

Additional reporting by Martin Wong