China highway collapse kills 36, more than 20 cars fall on steep slope

A section of highway collapsed after heavy rains in a mountainous region of southern China, causing cars to fall down a slope and killing at least 36 people, authorities said Thursday.

The Meizhou city government said 23 vehicles were found after a 58.7-foot-long section of the highway gave way around 2 a.m. Wednesday. Thirty other people were injured, none of whom were life-threatening, according to a government statement.

Search efforts were complicated by constant rain, gravel and dirt falling on the site, posing a risk to workers, a fire official told Chinese media.


Rescue teams divided the area into 10 grids and searched with dogs and life detection devices, according to the report. Excavators and cranes were also mobilized to help.

The collapse left a barren scar on a steep slope in an otherwise verdant forest area. Witnesses told local media they heard a loud noise and saw a large hole open up behind them after passing the section just before it collapsed.

Videos and photos published in local media showed smoke and fire at the scene, with a highway guardrail leaning toward the flames. A pile of blackened cars was visible on the slope leading down from the highway.

An aerial photo shows rescuers working at the site of a collapsed road section of the Meizhou-Dabu expressway in Meizhou, south China's Guangdong Province.

Rescue workers work at the site of a collapsed road section of the Meizhou-Dabu expressway in Meizhou, south China's Guangdong province, May 1, 2024. A section of highway collapsed early Wednesday in southern China, killing more than a dozen people. » said local officials. (Xinhua News Agency via AP)

A later photo showed a construction crane lowering a mangled car to the road surface, near three other similarly damaged vehicles. Everything seemed to have been set on fire.

More than 22 inches of rain have fallen in the past four weeks in the county where the road collapsed, more than four times as much as last year. Some villages in Meizhou were flooded in early April and the city has seen heavy rains in recent days.

Parts of Guangdong province have seen record rain and flooding over the past two weeks, as well as hail. A tornado killed five people in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, last weekend.

Heavy rains and flooding pose a particular risk to mountain roads and highway bridges due to erosion, debris flows and landslides. China has significantly expanded its infrastructure in recent years, adding more than a million highway bridges, the world's largest high-speed rail network and numerous new airports.


In the rush of construction, flaws in design and construction methods have often emerged, while regular inspections and maintenance are sometimes neglected. Dozens of people have died in recent years in tunnel collapses and floods, including 14 who drowned on subway trains in the central city of Zhenzhou during massive floods that killed around 300 people.

Subsequent reports indicated that officials did not suspend the service as they should have done under government guidelines.

Overseas Chinese projects, such as roads and dams under the Belt and Road Initiative, have also been criticized for design problems and poor quality, which could pose a challenge in its efforts to strengthen its influence in the developing world.


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