Death toll from south China road collapse rises to 36

This photo taken on May 1, 2024 shows an aerial view of a collapsed section of a highway near Meizhou, in southern China’s Guangdong province. (Photograph: CNS / CNS / AFP)

The death toll from a highway collapse in southern China’s Guangdong province has risen to 36, state media said Thursday, as rescue work continued.

Heavy rains caused a stretch of road running from Meizhou city towards Dabu county to cave in at around 2:10 am on Wednesday (1810 GMT Tuesday), according to state news agency Xinhua.

Vehicles careened into the nearly 18-metre-long (59-foot) gash in the tarmac and plummeted down the steep slope below.

Guangdong, a densely populated industrial powerhouse, has been hit by a string of disasters attributed to extreme weather events in recent weeks.

The storms have been much heavier than expected this time of year and have been linked to climate change.

China is the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change but has pledged to reduce emissions to net zero by 2060.

– ‘All-out’ efforts –

“As of 5:30 am on (Thursday)… 36 people have died, and 30 people have been injured,” Xinhua said, adding that the injuries were not life-threatening.

The death toll was up from 24 people on Wednesday afternoon.

Footage by state broadcaster CCTV showed excavators digging through the muddy hillside below the collapsed road.

Nearby, a crane lifted charred, wrecked vehicles onto a lorry as people watched from behind a cordon.

State media called the road collapse a “natural geological disaster” caused by the “impact of persistent heavy rain”.

President Xi Jinping ordered officials to “go all-out in on-site rescue work and treatment of the injured, and arrange for the management of risks and hidden dangers in a timely manner”, CCTV said on Thursday.

Around 500 people have been dispatched to help with the rescue operation, it added.

The provincial government has “mobilised elite specialised forces and gone all out to carry out… search and rescue”, according to Xinhua.

An official notice on Wednesday advised that part of the S12 highway was closed in both directions, requiring detours.

– More disasters likely –

Parts of central and eastern Guangdong have received up to 600 millimetres of rain in the last 10 days, three times the amount normally expected at this time of year, the National Weather Office said Thursday.

Up to 120 millimetres more rain was forecast for the province’s southwestern areas on Thursday, alongside further downpours across southern China until Sunday.

The conditions “raise the risk of disasters, especially geological disasters, which have a certain lag time”, the weather office said.

The emergency management ministry also warned that persistent rain would make such disasters more likely.

Officials have warned people to plan journeys carefully during the May public holiday, which runs until Sunday.

Massive downpours in Guangdong last month sparked floods that claimed four lives and forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people.

And last week, a tornado killed five people when it ripped through the megacity of Guangzhou.