Highway collapse in China kills at least 48 people as cars sent crashing down into pit

Weather warning issued as heavy rain expected to lash parts of Guangdong in May

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Thursday 02 May 2024 10:22 BST
FILE: Bridge collapses in China during powerful floods

At least 48 people are now confirmed dead from a highway collapse in southern China that sent cars tumbling down a slope.

The Meizhou city government said 23 vehicles rolled into a pit after a 59-foot-long section of the highway gave way at about 2am (local time) on Wednesday in Guangdong province due to torrential rain.

Three other people were unidentified, pending DNA testing, the city government said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. It wasn’t immediately clear if they had died, which would bring the death toll to 51.

Thirty people suffered injuries but none of them life-threatening, the authorities had previously said.

The ground beneath the highway appeared to have caved in, along with a section of the road above it, causing vehicles to roll down a slope.

Witnesses said they heard a loud noise and saw a wide hole open up behind them after driving past the section just before it collapsed. The landslide reportedly began under two lanes of an expressway that ran along the side of a hill.

Rescuers working at the site of a collapsed road section of the Meizhou-Dabu Expressway in Meizhou
Rescuers working at the site of a collapsed road section of the Meizhou-Dabu Expressway in Meizhou (AP)

“We stopped and got out of the car to check and had no idea the road had collapsed,” a witness told Guizhou China.

The search operation was underway despite tough weather conditions, city mayor Mayor Wang Hui said. All the victims have been identified as Chinese nationals, he added.

Video and photos in local media showed smoke and fire at the scene, with highway guardrails slanting down into the flames. A pile of blackened cars could be seen on the slope leading down from the highway.

Authorities pressed more than 500 rescuers from the police and other emergency departments into action as the expressway was sealed from traffic in both directions. The provincial government has “mobilised elite specialised forces and gone all out to carry out... search and rescue”, it said.

However, the search operation was hampered by the incessant rain and gravel sliding down the slope. The disaster left a curving earth-coloured gash in the otherwise verdant forest landscape.

“Because some of the vehicles involved caught fire, the difficulty of the rescue operation has increased,” said Wen Yongdeng, the Communist Party secretary for the Meizhou emergency management bureau.

At least 36 dead in China’s highway collapse
At least 36 dead in China’s highway collapse (CNS/AFP via Getty Images)

Most of the vehicles got buried in the soil after falling down the slope, he said, adding that the prolonged heavy rainfall has saturated soil in the area, “making it prone to secondary disasters during the rescue process”.

The collapse trapped over 20 vehicles, involving 54 people, on the highway, Xinhua reported.

Guangdong, a densely populated province home to 127 million people, has seen record rainfall and flooding in the past two weeks, forcing more than 110,000 people to relocate.

A tornado killed five people in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, last weekend.

Locals were seen wading through knee-deep water, retrieving whatever belongings they could from their damaged properties.

Buses and helicopters ferried to safety all the residents of the township of Jiangwan in the Shaoguan region as a new round of floods arrived, the reports said, citing local authorities.

“I have never seen such heavy rain in my life, nor have people older than me,” said Jiang, a 72-year-old resident who gave only his surname, according to state-run China Daily.

The government warned of possible further disasters with the province bracing for intensified bouts of downpour throughout May.

"Multiparty discussions and evaluations indicate that strong convection and heavy precipitation may increase in China in May," the Emergency Management Ministry said.

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