ZHENGZHOU, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- Death toll from an expressway viaduct collapse in central China's Henan Province early Friday has risen to nine, and an initial investigation has indicated that the collapse was caused by an explosion involving a fireworks-laden truck.
Eleven other people were also injured in the accident, which occurred around 9:00 a.m. on a 30-meter-high viaduct in Mianchi County, Sanmenxia City, about 193 km west of the provincial capital of Zhengzhou.
An 80-meter-long section of the southern lane of the viaduct collapsed after the explosion, according to the rescue headquarters at the scene.
A professional assessment team formed by traffic design institutions has started safety evaluation on the expressway viaduct, said Wang Chunjiang, an official with the construction management office of Henan Communications Department.
The team will evaluate conditions of the uncollapsed half section of the viaduct, to confirm whether rescue equipment can run on it and whether it is still safe for traffic. The result is expected on Saturday, said Wang.
The rescue headquarters said Friday night that six trucks and two cars had been pulled from debris as of 9 p.m., and further search and rescue efforts remain underway.
Seven people died at the scene of the accident, while two others died on the way to hospital. Of the 11 injured, four are in serious condition, the rescuers said. Previous reports said 13 people had been injured.
Xinhua reporters saw completely deformed sedans and debris of a oil tanker and a container under the viaduct, and the ground was scattered with timbers and paper boxes.
Traffic controls have been put in place on the expressway linking Lianyungang City of east China's Jiangsu Province and Horgos, a border port in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the country's far west, and passenger buses from Zhengzhou to Sanmenxia had been suspended.
The expressway viaduct, with bidirectional four lanes, opened to traffic in 2001 after three years of construction. The last test in 2011 revealed that no safety risks had been found.
The Ministry of Public Security has dispatched a team to direct the rescue work and investigate the cause of the accident.
Headed by Huang Ming, vice minister of public security, the team is on its way to the site of the accident, sources with the ministry told Xinhua.
Although the blast was to blame for the collapse, according to the initial investigation, Internet users are still suspicious of the quality of the viaduct.
"I just cannot understand how this road was built," said Internet user, Wushifeng 521, on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging service.
"How could fireworks be so powerful? Is the viaduct a shoddy construction work?" asked another user, Langren-088.
Accidents involving fireworks are likely to occur around this time of the year in China, as setting off fireworks is a traditional way to celebrate the Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 10 this year.
A fireworks blast in north China's Hebei Province on Jan. 18 destroyed a two-story home where the explosives were stored, killing three people and injuring 11 others.
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