At least 52 killed in Vietnam bridge collapse
by Tran Thi Minh Ha and Le Thang Long
Wed Sep 26, 10:46 AM ET
A bridge under construction in southern Vietnam collapsed on Wednesday killing at least 52 people and leaving dozens injured, state television reported.
About 250 labourers and engineers were working on the bridge in Vinh Long province when it gave way, sending slabs of concrete crashing into the river below, officials said.
"The latest death toll has reached 52 now," Vietnam Television said in an evening broadcast updating earlier tolls.
A senior police officer earlier said at least 38 were killed but he also had reports of a higher toll.
"We have received reports of the death toll reaching 38," said Le Van Ut, deputy director of the provincial police department, adding he had reports of up to 52 killed.
Rescuers were still working Wednesday night to free others trapped under slabs of broken concrete. About 150 military personnel have been mobilised to help with the rescue efforts, officials said.
People trapped under the rubble were making noises to attract attention and families of suspected victims were joining the rescue effort, the online newspaper VNExpress said.
"The top priority now is rescue work," said Ngo Thinh Duc, vice transport minister told VTV.
"The most difficult thing now is to dismantle the huge fallen concrete blocks to save people underneath," he told VTV.
One witness said he heard a very loud noise at one end of the bridge and then screams from workers for help.
"Workers started shouting. The scene was terrible as a giant concrete block fell onto so many people working underneath," worker Manh Hung was quoted by the VNExpress newspaper's website as saying.
About 79 of those injured were still being treated in hospital Wednesday evening, VTV reported, adding "17 were in very serious condition."
Officials previously talked about more than 160 injured in the disaster.
Deputy vice chairman of the Can Tho People's Committee, Pham Phuoc Nhu, said recent rains in the area might have weakened the structure as well as scaffolding attached to the bridge.
"So much rain over the last few days might have weakened and caused the collapse of the two bridge piers, leading also to the fall of the scaffolding system," Nhu said.
VNExpress quoted police sources as saying a weakened scaffolding system fell down, leading to the collapse of parts of the bridge that were only set in concrete on Tuesday.
Funded by the Japanese government, the 16-kilometre (10-mile) long bridge was being built across the Hau river and to link Can Tho and Vinh Long provinces. Japan was expected to donate up to 24,8 billion yen (215 million dollars for the project.
A Japanese embassy spokesman in Hanoi, Seiki Furudate, said it had not heard of any Japanese victims in the accident.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, sent an urgent message asking authorities to instigate a major rescue operation and investigate the cause of the accident.
VNExpress said construction on the site started in September 2004. The bridge was expected to be completed next year, it added.
"We have not known of any foreign engineers among the victims," police officer Hung told AFP from the site.