Vietnam quickens search for remaining bridge victims

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CAN THO, Vietnam, Sep 29 (Reuters) Recovery workers in southern Vietnam dug out one more body today as they accelerated the search for several people still believed trapped three days after a section of a Japanese-funded bridge collapsed.

Two spans of a bridge under construction in Can Tho, in the Mekong Delta, broke on Wednesday in the nation's worst such accident, killing at least 48 and injuring 82, some with critical head injuries.

The official Vietnam News Agency said earlier that 64 had died.

Cranes lifted broken steel frames and slabs of concrete from several places in the rubble identified by sniffer dogs before rescuers used their hands to remove debris.

''A strong smell is still coming out and our gut feeling is that there are more bodies in there,'' Captain Tran Xuan Hoi, who commands two army engineering units at the site, said after soldiers removed the worker's body.

Two women cried and one fainted as the body was identified as their brother, one of six workers listed as missing.

The chief of Can Tho city's Communist Party unit, Nguyen Tan Quyen, said the round-the-clock search would end only when all the victims had been found.

A commemoration ceremony was scheduled tomorrow at the accident site near the Hau river in Vinh Long province. The construction of the 2.75-km bridge started in 2004 over the river to link Can Tho with Vinh Long and improve traffic access to Ho Chi Minh City, southern vietnam's commercial capital.

The Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted 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 per cent a year. Japan is providing much of the funding and expertise.

A Japanese consortium of Taisei Corp, Kajima Corp and Nippon Steel Engineering Co has been building the mid-section of the bridge. The reason for the collapse of a 90-metre section remained unclear but authorities are investigating. Officials said rains might have softened the foundations, causing scaffolding to collapse and bringing down the section.

REUTERS SW HS1018

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