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50 deaths in Can Tho bridge collapse

Failure of falsework supporting a newly poured concrete bridge deck is the likely cause of last week's collapse on the 2.75km-long Can Tho Bridge in South Vietnam.

Authorities have confirmed that 50 people were now known to have been killed, and 82 injured, when part of the bridge’s approach ramp gave way during construction last Wednesday. Three workers remain missing.

An 87m-long section of concrete deck – two spans of the approach structure – fell after the 30m-high scaffolding system gave way. The concrete girder deck had been poured just one day before. More than 250 people were working on and under the bridge at the time of the collapse.

Officially, no cause has been identified ahead of an independent investigation into the collapse. But it is understood that engineers suspect the foundations supporting the temporary scaffolding were weakened after heavy rain softened the ground.

"The Transport Ministry will ask a company, which is not run by the ministry, to get to know the accident's cause," said Vietnamese transport minister Ho Nghia Dung.

"The bridge's construction will continue after the site is cleared. The ministry will require contractors to reinforce technical workers and highly-qualified experts," he said.

The Can Tho bridge was due to be completed next year and will be the largest cable-stayed bridge in southeast Asia. It crosses the Hau river, linking Ho Chi Minh city to the Mekong delta. The collapse site is some 170km south of Ho Chi Minh City.

A consortium of three Japanese contractors, Taisei, Kajima and Nippon Steel are constructing the VND4.8 trillion (£150M) scheme. Funding for the project has come from the Japanese Official Development Assistance fund, with loans from the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC).

Work started on the bridge in late 2004. The huge project, which includes a 1km main cable-stayed span and 13km of approach roads, hope to boost the economy of the Mekong Delta and the bridge will replace a ferry crossing downstream of the site.

The 26m-wide reinforced concrete deck is supported across the main and side spans by cables from two 165m-high pylons and carries four lanes of traffic to give 39m clearance to the river below. The approach ramps are supported by 30m-high concrete piers with deck girders spanning around 43m.

Dung said the main contractor and the bridge's investors should accept responsibility for the accident. He said the main contractor would now have to review technical designs and the construction process and monitoring.

Vietnam is investing nationwide in its infrastructure to accommodate its growing economy, with government officials predicting it will expand 9% next year.

This collapse is the latest in a string of recent fatal bridge catastrophes around the world. In the past two months, 13 people died in China and four died in Hyderbad, India, when bridges collapsed while still under construction.

A recently opened bridge in Karachi also collapsed in September killing six people and in August there were 13 deaths when the I-35, a 40-year-old bridge in Minnesota, US, collapsed.

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