Bridge Collapses Before Completion, 36 Dead
Bridge Collapses Before Completion, 36 Dead

The Tuojiang Bridge in Fenghuang County, Hunan Province was scheduled to be completed and open to traffic by the end of August 2007. On August 13, the bridge suddenly collapsed. At the time of the accident, over 200 workers were working on the bridge removing steel scaffolding. By the evening of August 14, rescuers had saved 86 people, recovered 29 bodies, with 39 still missing. By August 15, searchers and rescuers recovered another seven bodies at the scene of the accident, which made the death toll 36.

Fenghuang County is located in the western part of Hunan Province, and is the hometown for renowned writer Shen Congwen. It is a region inhabited by the Miao ethnic group and also a popular tourist attraction. The Tuojiang Bridge that collapsed was a newly constructed four-arch stone bridge on Fengda highway. It was 320 meters long and 12 meters wide.

According to a report on China.org.cn, the Tuojiang Bridge was a key construction project in the Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Area of Hunan Province. It was owned by the Fengda Company in the Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Area. The contractor was the Provincial Road and Bridge Construction (Group) Ltd. Co. The bridge was a model project in the area.

Director Lou Zhengli of the International Publicity Office of the Committee of Xiangxi Autonomous Area told a Central News Agency reporter that the completion ceremony for the Tuojiang Bridge was originally scheduled for October 1. However over a month ago, the third arch of the bridge had subsided. It was reinforced before the construction was able to continue. The results of the investigation of the Department of Discipline Inspection and Supervision have yet to determine if it was the cause of negligence.

Survived migrant workers accused the construction manager of insisting on completing the work by August 13 regardless of regulation violations.

Migrant workers believe that the bridge was a typical jerry-built project. “The stones used for building a stone arch bridge are supposed to have a unified specification or style to reduce gaps between stones. But what did they do? They simply exploded the mountain and used the stones from the debris for construction regardless of their size and shape. What was even worse was that they started grouting before cement and sand were properly stirred and mixed. They even used less cement than was required. Places with more sand are bound to leak.”

Before the collapse, the stone arch bridge had already started to crack. The contractor merely filled the cracks with cement. An officer form the Xiangxi International Publicity Office confirmed that the third arch of the bridge had subsided over a month ago. It was reinforced and the construction continued. Family members of the victims and survived migrant workers disclosed that the first arch had suddenly sunk over 10 centimeters in May.

China's State Administration for Safety Control has now classified the Fenghuang Bridge collapse as a major disaster. Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao has issued an order to “determine the cause of the collapse and severely punish those responsible.”

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