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Two dead as ship slams into Chinese road bridge, sending cars flying into river

At least two people died after an empty barge collided with a bridge in southern China, which led to its partial collapse and vehicles plunging into the water.

Three others went missing when the cargo vessel crashed near China's Pearl River Delta at Guangzhou city on Thursday.

The barge was traveling from Foshan City to a southern district of Guangzhou, when it rammed into the bridge at 5am (local time) in the Hongqili Waterway, according to the Guangzhou Maritime Safety Administration.

The vessel "came into contact with... the bridge pillars, causing the roadway above to collapse", state media CCTV reported.

The cargo vessel was lodged diagonally between two pillars of the bridge (Screengrab/ CCTV)
The cargo vessel was lodged diagonally between two pillars of the bridge (Screengrab/ CCTV)

Images aired by CCTV showed an empty container barge lodged between two columns of the Lixinsha Bridge with part of the bridge's two-lane road deck missing.

Two people have been rescued, while one crew member sustained light injuries, the Guangzhou bureau said in a statement.

Rescue personnel in orange jumpsuits raced in dinghies across a murky waterway towards a high bridge to find the missing people. Additionally, six divers and salvage vessels have been pressed into the rescue operation.

The red and white vessel was lodged at a diagonal angle between two of the bridge’s pillar as the water cascaded onto its deck.

The Guangzhou maritime administration has advised ships and vehicles on the route to make detours.

Four vehicles and an electric motorbike fell off the bridge following the collapse. A bus and another vehicle reportedly plunged into the water, while three other vehicles landed on the barge.

City authorities said it was not sure whether the bus driver survived the fall. The vehicle had no passengers.

The ship’s captain has been detained, while the cause of the incident was “under investigation, and rescue work is proceeding at full strength and in good order”. People residing in the neighbouring areas have been evacuated, local media reported.

The Lixinsha Bridge crosses a waterway near the mouth of the Pearl River, inland from Hong Kong. The area is one of China’s biggest manufacturing and transport hubs and contains two of the world’s five busiest ports, according to the World Shipping Council.

Traffic restrictions on the bridge were lifted in July 2020, a year after it bridge box girder suffered serious damages.

After the incident, work to strengthen the bridge, which provides residents with a land connection to the cities of Zhongshan and Shenzhen, began in 2022. However, the anti-collision and strengthening works have been repeatedly delayed.

In the latest extension, the city transportation department has marked end-August this year for completion of the works.