Eleven feared dead after cars plunge into river from wrecked road bridge

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The Independent US

Up to 12 people were feared dead yesterday when part of a road bridge in Arkansas collapsed after it was hit by a barge, sending more than a dozen vehiclestumbling 100 feet into a river.

Up to 12 people were feared dead yesterday when part of a road bridge in Arkansas collapsed after it was hit by a barge, sending more than a dozen vehiclestumbling 100 feet into a river.

A floating crane and helicopters were called in to try to rescue people trapped in their vehicles in the Arkansas river after the empty oil barge struck a column bringing down a 500ft section.

Fishermen pulled out some people from the 12 cars, two lorries and horse trailer that crashed into the water early yesterday, but others were trapped under the fast-flowing waters. "It sounded like an explosion," said one witness. Five people, including a couple in their 60s, were taken to hospital. One person was said to be in a critical condition.

A hospital spokesman said: "One gentleman said he was driving and all of a sudden there was nothing under him. He doesn't remember how he got out of his vehicle. He probably swam out, but he simply doesn't remember."

The 20-year-old bridge, 100 miles east of Oklahoma City, collapsed on top of the barge but none of the seven people aboard was injured. The accident is believed to have happened when a tugboat lost control of its load as it pushed two empty barges up the river. The state governor Frank Keating, who visited the area, said the barge captain may have had a seizure and black-ed out before the collision.

The rescue attempt was being hampered by stormy weather in south-eastern Oklahoma, with the river flowing too fast for divers to search the cars. Officials said they expected to recover between five and 12 bodies but conditions meant the operation might not be completed until Tuesday. A second bridge nearby was also hit yesterday morning but it was still being used, despite a damaged pillar. It was unclear if the same barge had hit both bridges.

Shane Guthrie, of Mississippi-based Magnolia Marine Transport said the company's 104ft tugboat, the Robert Y Love, was pushing two barges when the accident happened. "They just got hold of the bridge span somehow," Mr Guthrie said. "We're still investigating the accident."

Officials said thousands of cars crossed the bridge every day on the main east-west road through Oklahoma.

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