Two young students died as dozens of people were thrown into the swollen Xeng River when a cable holding up a wooden pedestrian bridge appears to have parted causing the bridge deck to turn on its side, RFA’s Lao Service has learned
Of the nearly 60 or so people on the bridge, 20 victims were sent to hospital with four reamining in the hospital getting treatment for broken bones, according to local officials. The Vientiane Times reported that in addition to the two children that died, there were three children still unaccounted for and 53 people who were rescued.
Authorities did not provide an official cause for the incident in Luang Prabang province’s Viengkham district, but a local official blamed the catastrophe on a broken cable that supported the bridge.
“We cannot observe the broken point while passing by because it was under the ground,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Last year it was maintained by using oil [to protect the cable], but this rainy season it was covered with soil.”
The official told RFA that the bridge was repaired twice since it was built in 2012 by the Onsy Road-Bridge Construction Company at a cost of 600 million kip (U.S. $75,000).
“The bridge was repaired last year,” the official told RFA. “This year the timber on the edge of the bridge was replaced, but the cable was not.”
Officials from both the provincial and national offices of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation began an investigation into the cause.
“We are going to inspect it, but we cannot give any answers”, Fasanane Thammavong, director general of provincial department of public works and transport told RFA on Sunday.
“It is expected the result will come out this week,” he added. “We will see if it is repaired or built anew.”
Fasanan Thammavong, told Vientiane Times, however, that the ropes holding the wooden decking together on one side broke because the combined weight of the people walking across it exceeded the bridge's capacity.
The bridge was built to carry about 20 people but 58 people were using it at the time the rope broke, including a teacher riding a motorbike, the Vientiane Times reported.
While the government attempts to uncover the reason for the bridge failure, an official with a civil society organization (CSO), who also spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, blamed the government for ignoring safety and construction issues.
While the Xeng River footbridge is a small one, bridges like the one that collapsed dot Laos.
“We would like the relevant authorities to pay more attention to addressing this problem, because there is not only one bridge like this here but also many similar bridges in many districts throughout the country,” the CSO official said. “This week it occured in this province, and next time it will be in another province.”
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.