Source AP ©

Bridge collapses in Vietnam killing 34 workers

A bridge in southern Vietnam collapsed Wednesday, killing at least 34 workers and leaving dozens more missing or injured, officials said.

The Japanese-funded bridge was being built across the Hau River, a branch of the Mekong River, in the southern city of Can Tho. It is part of a heavily traveled route that links the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City.

At least 34 people were dead, said Dang Van Tam, director of Central Can Tho General Hospital.

Pham Van Dau, chairman of the Vinh Long Province people's committee, said another 70 workers had been injured.

Rescue teams were digging through the rubble in search of survivors, said Le Viet Hung, vice chief of the Can Tho police.

"It was total chaos," he said. "It sounded like a huge explosion. It's the biggest accident I've ever seen."

The exact number of missing was unknown, but on a normal day up to 140 people would work on the section of the bridge that collapsed, said Vo Thanh Tong, chairman of the Can Tho people's committee.

The official Vietnam News Agency reported that about 250 people were working there when the section buckled, about 8 a.m.

"We are rushing to find the missing," Hung said. "We have mobilized emergency teams from four hospitals."

Construction of the span, which was not yet open to traffic, was being overseen by Japanese companies Taisei Corp., Kajima Corp., Nippon Steel Corp. and Nippon Koei-Chodai.

There were no reports of Japanese casualties.

Construction on the 2.75-kilometer (1.7-mile), four-lane bridge started in 2004 and was expected to be finished next year. It was to be the largest suspension bridge in Vietnam and would greatly speed the trip across the river, which thousands now make daily by ferry.

Rescue workers were using cranes and other heavy equipment to move debris, Tong said.

Images broadcast on Vietnamese television showed mounds of twisted steel and cables shrouded in dust and smoke. Dozens of workers in yellow helmets rushed about in the wreckage, some carrying stretchers with bloody victims.

The portion that collapsed was 30 meters (98.4 feet) tall and about 100 meters (328 feet) long and was above land on the river bank in Vinh Long province, Tong said. Workers had just poured concrete on that section Tuesday, he said.

Japan provided a 25 billion yen (US$218 million; EUR154.54 million) loan to finance the project, enough to cover 85 percent of the cost, said Yoshifumi Omura, of the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation in Hanoi. The Vietnamese government provided the rest of the funding.

"There's huge confusion at the site, and it's difficult to collect information," Omura said. "We still don't know the cause."

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