Death Toll from South China Highway Collapse Rises to 48

The death toll in a highway collapse in southern China has risen to 48, as emergency teams continue efforts to recover cars from the scene.

State news agency Xinhua reported the updated death toll at 3:35pm (07:35 GMT) on Thursday. It said earlier that 30 people had been injured, adding that they were not in life-threatening condition.

The highway collapsed early on Wednesday morning as China began its major May holidays, traditionally one of the busiest times of the year on the roads.

Aerial photographs showed one side of the S12 highway between Meizhou city and Dabu county had fallen away as the earth beneath it collapsed, sending mud cascading down the steep and forested hillside.

State broadcaster CCTV said the incident was a “natural geological disaster … [that occurred] under the impact of persistent heavy rain”.

A 17.9-metre (58.7-foot) stretch of the road collapsed, it said, with 23 vehicles so far found in the muddy pit.

Several people who witnessed the incident told local media they heard “sounds of cars falling” followed by “a huge explosion”.

“We stopped and got out of the car to check and had no idea the road had collapsed,” one told the Guizhou Evening News.

The highway was closed in both directions and some 500 emergency personnel including firefighters and mine rescue experts deployed to the site to help with the rescue operation.

Photos from the scene showed damaged cars being pulled from the mud by a giant crane, with excavators on standby. Rescuers were also searching with dogs and life-detecting devices.

The search effort was complicated by steady rain, as well as gravel and soil movement at the site, posing some risk to the workers, a fire department official told Chinese media.

The incident is the latest in a series of disasters linked to extreme weather events in Guangdong in recent weeks.

Massive downpours last month sparked floods in a different part of the province that killed four people and forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 residents.

Last week, a tornado tore through part of the megacity of Guangzhou killing five people.

The downpours have been much heavier than would normally be expected this time of year and have been linked to accelerating climate change.

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Comfort Samuel

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