China bridge blast, collapse kills 11

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HONG KONG. February 1. KAZINFORM At least 11 people died after a truck carrying fireworks on an expressway bridge in central China exploded Friday, causing part of the bridge to collapse and sending vehicles plunging off the edge, authorities said.

The exact number of casualties wasn't immediately clear. Highway police in Henan province, where the explosion happened, said on their official microblog account that at least 11 people had been killed.

But the state-run China National Radio reported on its website that as many as 26 people had died in the disaster. It didn't say where it got the information from.

Search and rescue efforts are under way and six vehicles have so far been retrieved from the wreckage, the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

It said an 80-meter (260-foot) stretch of the bridge collapsed after the explosion, which occurred at 8:52 a.m. local time in Mianchi County.

Photos published by the popular Chinese website NetEase showed grim scenes of mounds of debris, including rubble and parts of vehicles, strewn among the bottom of the bridge's pillars. CNN wasn't immediately able to verify the authenticity of the images.

Fireworks are an enduring element of celebrations of the Lunar New Year in China, one of the country's most important holidays that takes place this month. But they have been at the root of accidents in the past.

In 2009, fireworks set off a huge fire that gutted a brand-new hotel in central Beijing, briefly prompting calls for the return of a ban put in place at the height of Chairman Mao Zedong's rule in the 1970s.

According to local folklore, fireworks drive away monsters and evil spirits. But under Mao they were prohibited, ostensibly on the basis that they were "bourgeois" and a "waste of money."

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