By MARGIE MASON, AP
CAN THO, Vietnam — The death toll in the collapse of a suspension bridge being built in Vietnam rose to 46 on Friday as rescue workers continued to search for the missing and grieving families prepared to bury the dead.
One more body was discovered in the rubble Friday morning and seven people remained unaccounted for, said Nguyen Van Cong, spokesman for Vietnam’s transportation ministry.
All the victims were Vietnamese construction workers laboring on a 100-meter (330-foot) section of the Japanese-funded bridge, which collapsed Wednesday. Eighty-two people were injured, many severely.
The bridge was to be one of the biggest in Southeast Asia and provide a crucial link between the southern province of Vinh Long and Can Tho, the biggest city in the Mekong Delta.
The section that collapsed crossed the island of My Hoa, and many of the dead came from My Hoa village, where several funerals were planned Friday.
Twenty-six villagers died in the accident, 35 were injured and five others remained missing from the area, said Nguyen Van Dung, a village official.
“I haven’t seen an accident like this that killed so many people in our village since the end of the war,” Dung said. “The whole village is in mourning.”
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the collapse, but believe heavy rains the night before may have weakened the structure, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said Thursday.
Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet visited the site along with numerous other government officials on Thursday, hoping to learn more about how the country’s largest construction accident of this type could have occurred.
Hospital officials said the death toll was likely to rise since many victims suffered serious injuries.
One of those struggling to survive was Manh Hang Thai, 26, a patient at Can Tho’s Military Hospital.
As tubes ran from his body and a machine breathed for him, his mother waited outside hoping for the best.
“I was working in the rice field and I heard a huge explosion and I thought something might have happened to my son,” said Nguyen Thi Xep, 54, who lives on the island where the collapse occurred. “I rushed to the site and could not find him.”
The 2.75-kilometer (1.7-mile) bridge over the Hau river, a branch of the Mekong river, is one of the largest construction projects in Vietnam, which is scrambling to build new roads, ports and bridges to keep pace with its booming economy.
The work is being led by a consortium of three large Japanese companies, Taisei Corp., Kajima Corp. and Nippon Steel Corp. A fourth Japanese company, Nippon Koei-Chodai, is the chief consultant on the US$218 million (€154 million) project, largely funded by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.
The accident comes amid a spate of recent bridge collapses, including one earlier this month in Pakistan that killed six people, another in southern China last month that killed 64 people and a third in the U.S. city of Minneapolis on Aug. 1 which killed 13 people.