China: Five killed after barge crashes into bridge, as vehicles plunge into water below

Five people have been killed in China after a barge hit a bridge, which led to part of the structure breaking off, and vehicles plunging into the water below.

A bus and an electric motorbike were among five vehicles that fell off the Lixinsha Bridge over a waterway, said China Central Television (CCTV).

The bus, with only its driver on board, and one of the vehicles hit the water, while the other three ended up on the vessel.

The bus driver, the motorcycle rider and three people in a van died in Thursday's incident which happened at about 5.30am local time near Guangzhou city, in Guangdong province, according to the state-owned broadcaster.

Pictures on CCTV showed an empty container barge trapped between two columns of the bridge over the Hongqili Waterway, with part of the bridge's two-lane road deck missing.

All road traffic on the bridge was stopped as more than 100 emergency staff, including six divers, and about 15 boats and salvage vessels, worked to rescue the vehicles, local officials said.

The vehicles and three of the bodies were recovered from the water, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) said, quoting city authorities. There was no word on the other two bodies.

Two people were treated in hospital and their condition was described as stable. They included one of the barge's crew members who suffered minor injuries.

Authorities were still investigating the cause of the accident, the Guangzhou administration said on its WeChat social media account, but authorities blamed the vessel's crew, accusing them of "operational mishandling", reported SCMP.

The captain of the barge, which was travelling from Foshan city to Guangzhou, has been detained, according to a Beijing News report, citing a local member of the Chinese legislature, the SCMP added.

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Local people were told to leave the area and the owner of the vessel was detained by officials, according to the Global Times.

Guangzhou is among the busiest seaports in mainland China.

Repairs to the bridge started in 2022 due to safety concerns, but because of delays, work was not expected to be completed until the end of August this year.