September 29, 2007 / 12:24 PM / 12 years ago

Vietnam's bridge toll rises to 49 -Minister

(Updates death toll; quotes, details from news conference)

By Nguyen Huy Kham

CAN THO, Vietnam, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Recovery workers dug out three bodies on Saturday from the rubble of a section of collapsed bridge, raising the death toll from the disaster in southern Vietnam to 49, the Transport Minister said.

At a news conference near the site, the minister and an executive from one of the Japanese companies building the bridge over a river apologised for Wednesday’s accident, Vietnam’s worst bridge disaster.

The accident injured 82 workers, some with critical head wounds and three others were still missing, Transport Minister Ho Nghia Dung said.

"From the bottom of my heart, I apologise for letting this accident happen," Kanji Hayama, President and Chief Executive of Taisei Corp, told reporters.

Taisei Corp along with Kajima Corp and Nippon Steel Engineering Co form a consortium building the mid-section of the bridge, which had an initial investment of more than $300 million.

The reason for the collapse of a 90-metre (300-foot) section was not clear but authorities are investigating.

Officials said rains might have softened the foundations, causing scaffolding to collapse and bringing down the section.

"After conducting a review, if it is the responsibility the Transport Ministry and its minister has to take, he will consider a resignation," Dung said.

He said the collapse of two bridge spans being built over the Hau river between Can Tho city and Vinh Long province in the Mekong Delta had killed 49 workers, including the three bodies recovered on Saturday.

Cranes continued lifting broken steel frames and slabs of concrete from places in the rubble identified by sniffer dogs and workers used their hands to remove debris.

Soldiers, police and construction workers were working around the clock searching for victims.

A memorial ceremony was scheduled on Sunday at the accident site where construction of the 2.75-km (1.7-mile) bridge started in 2004.

The Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted the chief of Can Tho city’s Communist Party unit, Nguyen Tan Quyen, as saying that completion of the bridge could be delayed by up to four months. It was originally scheduled to open for traffic in December 2008.

Vietnam is developing its roads, bridges and ports to keep up with an economy growing at more than 8 percent a year.

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