Deadly fireworks blast in China destroys highway

The huge blast collapsed an 80-yard stretch of a major east-west highway in Henan Province, scattering blackened chunks of debris. State media reported conflicting casualty figures.

 BEIJING — Fireworks for Lunar New Year celebrations exploded on a truck in central China, destroying part of an elevated highway Friday and sending vehicles plummeting 30 meters (about 100 feet) to the ground. State media had conflicting reports on casualties.

The huge blast collapsed an 80-yard stretch of a major east-west highway in Mianchi county in Henan Province. It scattered blackened chunks of debris and shattered the windows of a nearby truck stop. There was no immediate word on the cause of the explosion.

A Communist Party spokesman for the nearby city of Sanmenxia cited provincial officials as saying that five people were confirmed dead and eight hospitalized. The Xinhua News agency reported four dead. Earlier reports by China National Radio and some other outlets of up to 26 people killed were later removed from websites.

Photos posted on the website of a Henan newspaper, Dahe Daily, showed a stretch of elevated highway gone, with one truck's back wheels perched at the edge of a shorn-off section. Other photos showed firefighters below spraying water on scorched hunks of concrete, wrecked trucks and flattened shipping containers.

Fireworks blast in China: Map shows the city of Sanmenxia in Henan Province where a truck carrying fireworks ahead of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations exploded and destroyed part of an elevated highway. IMAGE

The blast occurred about 55 miles west of Luoyang, an ancient capital of China known for grottoes of Buddhist statues carved from limestone cliffs.

Fireworks are an enormously popular part of Chinese Lunar New Year festivities. To meet the demand, fireworks are made, shipped and stored in large quantities, sometimes in unsafe conditions.

In 2006, on the first day of the Lunar New Year, a storeroom of fireworks exploded at a temple fair in Henan, killing 36 people and injuring dozens more. In 2000, an unlicensed fireworks factory in southern China exploded, killing 33 people, including 13 primary and secondary school students working there.

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