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Truck blast raises safety fears

By Tang Yue and Xiang Mingchao in Sanmenxia, and He Na and Peng Yining in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-04 09:17
Truck blast raises safety fears

The broken expressway bridge in Sanmenxia, Henan province. A truck carrying fi reworks exploded as it crossed the bridge on Friday, killing 10 people and injuring 11. [PHOTOS BY XIANG MINGCHAO / CHINA DAILY]

Massive fireworks explosion casts shadow over festival, report Tang Yue and Xiang Mingchao in Sanmenxia, and He Na and Peng Yining in Beijing.

The first thing Zheng Tiancheng saw at the scene of the accident was a pale hand sticking out from the debris. Here, a wisp of black hair was visible in the rubble. There, a knee stuck out at an odd angle. Lower down in the valley, more than a dozen vehicles lay wrecked among the crushed concrete and twisted steel.

On Feb 1, an expressway bridge collapsed after a truck carrying fireworks exploded, and when Zheng arrived at the scene, the smell of death was overpowering.

"A woman had survived - she was whispering 'help me, help me' as we came closer," said the 52-year-old farmer who lives about a kilometer from the scene.

The woman's legs were trapped in the buckled doors of a minibus. Zheng and two other villagers levered the doors open and pulled the woman out of the wreckage.

"There was blood everywhere," said Zheng. "People were crawling out from the crashed cars, covered all over with blood."

Ten people died and 11 were injured in the accident at Sanmenxia city in central China's Henan province, according to a city spokesperson. The truck exploded as it crossed the bridge. The cause of the explosion is still not known, but the blast blew away an 80-meter-long section of the bridge, causing 25 vehicles to fall 30 meters.

Shattered windows

Zheng and villagers saved six people before the rescue team arrived. Zheng said he hadn't felt tired or frightened as he helped the injured, but when he arrived home later that day he found he could barely stand.

"I collapsed onto the floor, and my whole body was shaking," he said. "That was the most horrible scene I have ever seen."

He said the land shook when the explosion occurred. The intensity of the blast shattered all the windows in his house and also cracked several walls. The bridge was one of the busiest highways in the vicinity and Zheng said he used to drive across it almost every day.

"It could have been me under that bridge, crushed by tons of concrete and steel," he said. "The thought haunts me constantly."

Hou Quanlin, 43, who survived the tragedy, suffered a mildly sprained ankle. He and his 24-year-old nephew Hou Yanxin were driving a trailer across the bridge. The truck in front of them stopped abruptly, according to Hou, so he and his nephew got out of their vehicle to see what was going on.

It was at that moment that the firework-laden truck behind them exploded. The force of the blast blew Hou into the air and then threw him forward. When he got up and looked back, a huge section of the bridge, his trailer and his nephew, who had walked in the opposite direction after leaving their vehicle, were all gone.

"How can I face his parents?" muttered Hou to himself.

Receiving treatment at the nearby Yima People's Hospital, Hou was sucked into a vortex of guilt. He blamed himself, saying that he had failed to take care of his nephew. "How can I face his parents?" He repeated the sentence every few minutes, his eyes fixed on the ceiling.

"He barely eats or sleeps," said Hou Yanpu, Hou's son, who rushed to the hospital immediately after the accident, along with 10 other members of the family. "He doesn't talk much, except to blame himself endlessly."

Grief hung over the sickroom and everyone cried. Hou Yanxin was an only child and the father of a 3-year-old boy.

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