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China sends vice premier to oversee recovery effort after road collapse kills 48

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China has sent a vice premier to oversee recovery efforts and urged better safety measures after a road collapse killed at least 48 people in the country’s mountainous south.

The official Xinhua News Agency on Friday said vice premier Zhang Guoqing had “stressed sparing no effort in carrying out rescue and relief work.”

The dispatch of Mr Zhang, who is also a member of one of the ruling Communist Party’s leading bodies, illustrates the concern over a possible public backlash over the disaster, the latest in a series of deadly infrastructure failures.

References to the collapse, which left a huge gash in the side of a cliff over which the road was built, largely disappeared from public media on Friday.

A firefighter sprays water on the remains of a car in the aftermath of the road collapse (Xinhua via AP)

About 30 other victims were taken to hospital.

One side of the four-lane road in the city of Meizhou gave way at about 2am on Wednesday after a month of heavy rain in the province of Guangdong.

Twenty-three vehicles plunged into a deep ravine, some bursting into flames and sending up thick clouds of smoke.

“Lessons should be drawn from the collapse and more should be done to improve disaster prevention and response capabilities, ensuring the safety of people’s lives and property and the overall social stability,” Xinhua quoted the vice premier as saying.

Rescuers working at the site of the road collapse
Rescuers working at the site of the road collapse (Wang Ruiping/Xinhua via AP)

No official word has been issued about any arrests or investigation into the collapse, which followed unusually intense weather, including hailstorms and an April 27 tornado that struck Guangdong’s capital of Guangzhou, killing five and injuring 33.

More heavy rain is forecast, with many flights headed south through the region cancelled or delayed.

Over 22 inches of rain has 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 received additional rain in recent days.

The Ministry of Emergency Management also issued an urgent circular urging officials to “draw lessons from the road collapse and take concrete measures to prevent similar accidents”.

The road section collapsed on the first day of a five-day May Day holiday, when many Chinese people travel at home and abroad.

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